How do I Become an Astronaut?

Liz Fernandez

Those interested in science, cutting-edge technology and adventure may find themselves well-suited for a career as an astronaut. To become an astronaut is a difficult endeavor that requires several years of preparation, dedication, higher education and excellent physical health. Potential astronauts must hold at least a bachelor’s degree in a science-related field, meet certain physical requirements, pass an extensive physical examination, and undergo two years of training before being considered for the job.

US astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the Moon.
US astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the Moon.

To become an astronaut in the United States, the first hurdle to meet is being a U.S. citizen. Next, certain physical attributes must be met. All potential candidates must meet a height requirement that ranges from 58.5 to 76 inches (1.5 to 1.9 meters) tall. They also must have a blood pressure of 140 over 90 or lower.

The Space Transportation System, popularly known as the "Space Shuttle", allowed civilian scientists to regularly travel into space for the first time.
The Space Transportation System, popularly known as the "Space Shuttle", allowed civilian scientists to regularly travel into space for the first time.

Potential candidates are taken from all fields and all walks of life, but a strong background in science or technology is highly advised. To become an astronaut, candidates will need at the very minimum a bachelor’s degree in science, engineering or math. Along with this requirement, three years of work experience showing progressive responsibilities is also needed. Graduate degrees are strongly encouraged and can substitute for work experience.

Many astronauts have advanced degrees in engineering or materials science.
Many astronauts have advanced degrees in engineering or materials science.

The application process to become an astronaut begins with paperwork. All candidates must fill out NASA’s official forms and submit them to the selection board. This process is continuous, meaning there are no set deadlines.

Astronauts usually have a passion for Earth and other elements of the solar system.
Astronauts usually have a passion for Earth and other elements of the solar system.

Once NASA reviews incoming applications, they will decide whether to invite the candidate to a weeklong session that further assesses his or her potential for the space program. During this week, candidates will be interviewed by the selection board and will participate in orientation sessions that provide in-depth information about the career. Medical tests will also be administered.

In order to ensure potential astronauts can meet all the rigors of being in space, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) requires that all candidates pass a physical examination. The mandatory exam is very similar to the test given to military flight personnel. This test is administered by NASA.

Those who excel during the orientation sessions, interviews, and physical examinations have the potential to become astronaut candidates. NASA receives thousands of applications, but only a select few are chosen. Since the program began in 1959, only 339 astronauts have been selected for astronaut candidate training.

For the candidates selected, two years of intensive training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, will be required. There they will take a plethora of courses in science, technology and space shuttle systems. Survival techniques will also be taught to ensure they are ready to meet any physical and mental challenges. Candidates will be taught how to survive on land and at sea. They will receive training in zero gravity, and they will learn to adapt to high-pressure and low-pressure environments.

After two years in Texas, candidates may be selected as astronauts. Training continues for these select few who will now receive specialized instruction in space shuttle operations as well as the individual systems they will find on board. Astronauts will begin simulation training that will teach them how to launch a shuttle and the intricacies of orbiting in space. Re-entering the earth’s atmosphere and landing the shuttle are also simulated. At this stage, astronauts may be selected for specific missions and will need to undergo 10 more months of specific training targeted to the mission before they are cleared for space.

Becoming an astronaut requires several years of preparation.
Becoming an astronaut requires several years of preparation.

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