I think it’s safe to say that the most thrilling job is now calling for applications. A key qualification: audacity.NASA is hiring a new team of astronauts. And it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. Between the thrill of launching into space and looking down on a beautiful Earth, why wouldn’t you apply? Of course it does have a few caveats.
To begin, the selection is incredibly competitive. In 2009 NASA received more than 3,500 applications and chose only nine. To date a total of 330 astronauts have been selected. It is likely that it will be even more competitive this year as NASA is encouraging everyone qualified to apply.
The other issue is that NASA currently does not have it’s own space shuttle. It might not be a bad idea to learn Russian in your free time, as only a handful of American astronauts will be flying on their Soyuz spacecraft once a year.
But there is still hope. NASA plans to send astronauts on commercial built rockets in the near future. And eventually astronauts will fly on NASA’s own Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), which is designed for farther missions to a near-Earth asteroid and Mars.
1.) You must have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics. Certain degrees aren’t sufficient, such as technology, psychology, nursing, exercise physiology, the social sciences, and aviation.
2.) A degree must be followed by at least three years of experience, or 1,000 logged hours of piloting a jet aircraft. Of course an advanced degree is desirable and may be substituted for experience. A master’s degree is equivalent to 1 year of experience and a doctoral degree is 3 years of experience. Sadly for those of us in graduate school we have at most 6 years before we meet the qualifications.
3.) Since astronauts will be flying on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft there are also physical requirements to be met. For instance you cannot be any shorter than 5 feet 2 inches and any taller than 6 feet 3 inches. 20/20 vision is required. You must be able to pass the NASA space flight physical as well as a background check.
4.) Lastly you must be a US Citizen in order to apply.
How to Apply
However, once the application is completed and submitted, there is still more to be done. A week long process of interviews and medical examinations will be required for applicants under final consideration. Selections will be announced in the spring of 2013. Those selected will become astronaut candidates and will commence their training the following summer.
Training includes taking basic science courses in astronomy, physics, geology, meteorology, oceanography, and mathematics, as well courses in technology and space shuttle systems. The candidates will be trained in land and sea survival techniques, as well as in high and low-pressure environments. All of which will be performed in space suits.
This training will last approximately two years. So final selection to be an astronaut will depend on its satisfactory completion (nearly four years after first submitting an application). Once astronauts are selected, training only continues at more in-depth levels. And once they have been selected for a flight, training continues still and is now specifically gauged toward that mission.
Thus in the end making it past the application pool may prove to be the easy part. Becoming an astronaut takes an incredible amount of hard work, diligence, and not to mention a sense of adventure. But to be among the few to watch the Earth rise over the moon, an asteroid, or even Mars would be truly breathtaking. I can only imagine that the hard work is well worth the view.