How to Become an Astronaut

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Astronaut Might Sound Like a Dream Job, But the Requirements Are Stringent

If you have ever dreamed of flying among the stars and gazing down on Earth from above, then it’s likely you’ve considered becoming an astronaut. This career path doesn’t come early in life, and it’s not exactly the type of job where you can be home with your kids during the evening and on weekends, for the most part. If you meet the education requirements, start applying now and be prepared for rejection.

Job Description

Currently, astronauts with NASA work in all aspects of the operations of the International Space Station, which include robotic operations, space walks, experimental operations and maintenance on the ISS. An astronaut could be assigned to a long-duration mission that takes her away from home for three to six months; however, the training is difficult, requires a lot of travel, and takes two to three years before the mission begins. There are no age restrictions to becoming an astronaut, but the average age is 34, according to NASA.

Education Requirements

To be considered for a U.S. astronaut position, a candidate must have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, physical science, computer science, biological science or mathematics, as well as a minimum of three years of post-degree related experience or 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time on a jet aircraft.

A potential astronaut also must be able to pass NASA’s astronaut physical, which requires distant and near visual acuity of 20/20 in each eye, though the use of glasses can help. You can also have your vision corrected via laser surgery.

Once you have made it past the first round of consideration, you must undergo a week-long process of personal interviews, medical screening and orientation. Once selected, you then complete a two-year training and evaluation period.

About the Industry

Astronauts work for the federal government through NASA. Candidates come from two backgrounds: civilian, which is most common, and military. While civilians apply to NASA directly, active duty military submit their application to the Astronaut Candidate Program through their respective branch. After preliminary review, eligible applications are sent to NASA for further consideration.

Years of Experience

Astronauts are paid in accordance with the federal government’s general schedule pay scale, falling between grades GS11 through GS14, which are:

  • GS11: $53,060–$68,983
  • GS12: $63,600–$82,680
  • GS13: $75,628–$98,317
  • GS14: $89,370–$116,181
  • GS-15: $105,123–$136,659

Each grade has 10 steps, and each step raises the amount a person is paid. The grade and step level at which a person is paid depends on work experience and academic achievements.

Job Growth Trend

NASA’s astronaut program will continue to be a very competitive career path. In 2016, 18,300 applications were submitted—a record-breaking amount—and just 120 candidates were brought to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, to be interviewed. Of that, just half received a second interview. Approximately eight to 14 are named as astronaut candidates.