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How To Become A Full-Fledged Astronaut

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Becoming an astronaut doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes many years of education and experience to meet the basic qualifications.

Many people aren’t accepted on the first try, either, requiring them to learn more to be better prepared for the next try.

Even then, only a small percentage of applicants become astronaut candidates, making it a hard job to get.

The fact that I applied to become an astronaut 15 times has not been lost on my friends, followers, or fans,” wrote retired astronaut Clay Anderson in his biography, “The Ordinary Spaceman,” as quoted in Popular Mechanics.

Jokes and snide remarks have hinged upon the ugly truth that on 14 of those 15 attempts I was a complete and abysmal failure. As a matter of fact, there’s a NASA public service announcement highlighting how it took me 15 tries. I like to cling to the reality that I can always say ‘better late than never,’ but at this point it’s all academic.

This article focuses on the selection process for NASA, which applies to American citizens.

While many of the qualifications can be generalized to astronaut programs in other countries, it’s important to note that each space agency has its own selection process.

Non-U.S. citizens in the following geographical areas should consult one of these agencies for more information on becoming an astronaut:

  • European Space Agency
  • Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency
  • Canadian Space Agency
  • Russian Federal Space Agency
  • China National Space Administration

The first step to being an astronaut is getting relevant experience in school. 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.

No matter the background, NASA wants its astronauts to have at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics.

Many astronauts have a master’s degree or even a Ph.D. in their field. Some astronauts, such as Story Musgrave (now retired), have degrees even beyond that.

While education implies you’ll need some money to make astronaut selection possible, a Forbes article points out that several astronauts received assistance from the military or government programs to pick up qualifications.

It takes more than school to gain a foothold as an astronaut selection candidate, however.

NASA’s 2017 astronaut candidate class, with Robb Kulin in the center with the selfie stick.

NASA wants at least three years of “related, progressively responsible, professional experience” or (in a nod to military candidates) at least 1,000 hours of “pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft.”

Advanced degrees are considered equivalent to this experience, however, with a master’s equaling one year of experience and a doctorate three years of experience.

A notable exception to these requirements are teachers, who still must have a technical bachelor’s degree but can qualify through the act of teaching — even for elementary school children.

NASA astronaut candidates must also pass a demanding physical. Among the requirements:

  • 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

In general, you must be in extremely good shape to be an astronaut as it’s expensive to make an emergency return to Earth in case of medical emergency in orbit.

There also are interviews during the selection process to figure out if a candidate is physically and psychologically able to work as an astronaut.

Flexibility, group work skills and a love of learning are some of the personality traits NASA looks for.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

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