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How To Become An Astronaut?

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Nowadays, people like Jeff Bezos are planning to fly into outer space. While this may be possible for the ultra wealthy, the way that most people make it into space is by becoming astronauts. There’s a lot to know about how to become an astronaut.

That’s why we’ve pulled together all the important information you’d want to know, such as qualifications, job descriptions, and what you can expect from an astronaut salary.

What Do Astronauts Do?

Astronauts carry out multiple different job duties depending on the role they are playing in a mission. There is a commander who makes important decisions and is ultimately in charge of the crew. The pilot works with the commander. Along with the commander and pilot, other astronauts fulfill specific duties based on their respective skills and specialities.

Outside of the spacecraft, astronauts perform tasks to ensure that space stations continue to run smoothly. They’ll repair anything that may be broken, check equipment, and clean.

Astronauts are often in the public eye only when they are leaving Earth. But the truth is that most of their time is spent on the ground. When they aren’t in space, astronauts focus their days (and sometimes nights) on training and assisting other astronauts on missions.

Source: Unsplash 

How to Become an Astronaut

For some professions, the path to entering them is to major in the subject. However, there’s no major  called “astronautics.” Instead, astronauts obtain their positions by meeting all of the qualifications that NASA lays out. As for their major, they gravitate (no pun intended) towards math and science fields because it is required.

Astronauts must have a master’s degree, along with at least two years of relevant work experience. Or, they can complete 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time.

Becoming an astronaut is a highly selective and competitive endeavor. Not only does it take time training before you have the chance to enter space, but NASA only accepts a very small percentage (sometimes less than 1%) of applicants.

After applying, NASA’s Astronaut Selection Board reviews applications and applicant’s qualifications. A small group of these individuals are invited to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas to conduct interviews. Only about half of this already small group make it to a second round of interviews, of which the top candidates are chosen.

The typical steps it takes to become an astronaut will include:

  • Completion of 2 years of basic training (physical and classroom)
  • Passing of physical tests (including a scuba certification and swim three laps in a pool while wearing a flight suit)
  • Practice in simulations

Applicants must also have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in a relevant STEM field, like: physical science, biology, engineering, computer science, and math.

Minimum Qualifications to Become an Astronaut

According to NASA, the minimum qualifications to become an astronaut are:

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Have two years of related work experience (or 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time on a jet aircraft)
  • Pass the NASA flight astronaut physical
  • Possess a master’s degree in a STEM field from an accredited institution

Alternatively, instead of a master’s degree, a prospective astronaut can instead fulfill:

  • Two years of work towards a doctoral program in STEM
  • The completion of a Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine Degree
  • The completion of a nationally recognized test pilot school program

What Do Prospective Astronauts Learn During Training?

Astronaut training is part of the path to becoming an astronaut as it prepares inspiring astronauts for their physical and mental tests. Astronauts in training are referred to as “AsCans,” which is an abbreviation for astronaut candidates.

Astronaut training takes place at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, which is located in Houston, Texas.

During training, AsCans learn valuable skills like:

  • How to pilot T-38 supersonic jet aircrafts
  • How to spacewalk (which is formally known as extravehicular activity (EVA)
  • Flight operations and safety
  • How to control robotic arms
  • Survival and first aid
  • Cultural sensitivity training

Tips for Training

Astronaut Colonel Chris Hadfield has shared some tips for astronauts in training. He recommends that any astronaut entering training should:

  • Ignore the media’s representations of astronauts (i.e. movies)
  • Have patience while working up from being an astronaut candidate
  • Train for emergency landings in any type of environment
  • Consider your body to be a system and learn about how it works
  • Focus on leadership and how to bond as a team
  • Have a strong desire to know everything, because once you’re in space, you can’t rely on anyone else but yourself to know and fix things

How Long Does it Take to Become an Astronaut?

If you want to become an astronaut, it will take dedication and time.

All in all, it takes about a decade to do so. Here’s how that breaks down: It takes about four years to earn a bachelor’s degree, two more years to earn a master’s degree, two years for professional experience, and a final two years for mandatory basic training.

How Much Does an Astronaut Make?

The Federal Government’s General Schedule dictates the salary for astronauts for grades GS-12 to GS-13. GS-12’s salary starts at $65,140 whereas a GS-13 can earn up to $100,701 annually.

Related Careers

It’s also possible to work in related careers that don’t call for the same qualifications as NASA does for astronauts. Astronomy is a field that will teach you all about space, including galaxies, dark matter theory, and planetary formation.

Astronomers are hired by NASA, too.

Alternatively, as an astronomer, you can work at a college or university as a professor, conduct research, or work with companies that partner with NASA.

Final Thoughts

Becoming an astronaut is a highly selective career path. Along with the decade of preparation, a prospective astronaut must meet NASA’s qualifications in order to apply. Although the chances are slim to be hired by NASA, it’s certainly worth trying if it is your hope and dream. This coveted position has the power to literally change the world and beyond.