FAQs: How Do I Become an Astronaut?

Growing up did you dream of gazing down at Earth from outer space, floating in zero-gravity or even space walking? Being an astronaut is one of the most thrilling careers you can have, but – it’s definitely not an easy one. Even more challenging, however, is actually becoming one. It takes many years of education and experience to meet the basic qualifications and even then, only a small percentage of applicants become astronaut candidates. So, what exactly does it take to be an astronaut? We’ve got the answers to some frequently asked questions.

1. What education and experience do I need to become an astronaut?

The first step to being an astronaut is getting relevant experience in school. NASA wants its astronauts to have at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics, but many astronauts have a master’s degree or even a Ph.D. in their field. However, it takes more than just schooling to make an impression as an astronaut selection candidate. NASA wants to see at least three years of “related, progressively responsible, professional experience” or at least 1,000 hours of “pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft.”

2. What physical qualifications are required to be an astronaut?

Astronauts need to be in extremely healthy and in shape since it’s expensive to make an unplanned return to Earth in case of medical emergency in orbit. Additionally, NASA asks that prospective astronauts possess:

  • 20/20 vision (either naturally or with corrective lenses)
  • Blood pressure not more than 140/90 in a sitting position
  • A height of between 62 and 75 inches

3. What skills or traits should aspiring astronauts have?

In space, astronauts live in cramped quarters with a handful of people for up to six months, so if a candidate makes it to the final interview – personality matters. “It comes down to how much of a positive impression you make on the interview panel,” said Tom Jones, a former NASA astronaut who flew on four shuttle missions. “They size you up in an hour and decide if you’re a person they and others would like to work with.”

4. What does astronaut training entail?

Once selected, there are two years of basic training in which you are considered an “astronaut candidate.” The candidates receive basic classroom learning about the International Space Station and spaceflight in general. They also become certified scuba divers, participate in military water survival training, are exposed to high and low atmospheric pressures, and learn Russian language, among other things. The training process is no cakewalk and even after graduating, many astronauts are not assigned to a flight for years. And, once an astronaut is assigned, the mission training takes another couple of years. They start by reading textbooks and receive classroom training, then do multiple simulations to ensure they’re comfortable with the mission objectives. Their training takes place all over the world, both individually and with their crewmates.

5. How do I apply to be an astronaut?

There are two main classes of astronaut applicants: military applicants and civilian applicants. Military application procedures vary depending on the branch of the U.S. armed forces you are working for, since you apply through your respective branch. Civilians apply to NASA directly. The application can be found at http://www.usajobs.gov. Get a jump start on your astronaut training and learn about some of the modern day launch vehicles by clicking here!