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The prestige, adventure and money that come with being an astronaut make the position a popular career. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration accepts military and civilian candidates for astronaut positions. Their levels of education, experience and their individual skill sets are considered when they are offered a salary. Military astronaut candidates receive different benefits and compensation from their civilian counterparts.
The salary range for an astronaut at the time of this publication was between $64,724 and $141,715 per year, according to NASA's website.
The federal government uses a General Schedule salary schedule to determine where each federal employee falls for compensation purposes. Each pay grade is associated with a specific level of education, experience, qualifications and skills. The General Schedule is applied to five different general job classifications: professional, administrative, clerical, technical and other occupations. Astronauts' pay grades previously mentioned correspond to the G-11 through G-14 pay grades of the federal government.
Military astronauts are put on active duty status and are paid accordingly. Their pay, benefits and leave are calculated according to active duty status. For example, captains earn between $44,544 and $72,468 in the Air Force, and colonels earn between $70,440 and $124,692 at the time of this publication. Astronauts from military backgrounds are typically test pilots from the Navy, Marine Corps or the Air Force.
Becoming an Astronaut
Physical fitness and good health are two important qualifications for becoming an astronaut. Astronauts must be U.S. citizens. NASA does not recommend one particular field of study for students in college who want to become astronauts, nor does it necessarily recommend military service as a way to earn a spot as an astronaut. At time of publication, 62 Mission Specialists of the current 94 astronauts were civilians. Military flight experience is helpful for pilot applicants, but it is not necessary for Mission Specialists.
The last space shuttle flew in 2010, and the future of NASA astronauts is not completely clear. The only way to get to the international space station at the time of this publication is on the Russian Soyuz capsule. The job outlook for NASA astronauts is not good in the near future, but some predict that job opportunities for astronauts in future may improve, as privately-funded space missions are on the horizon.
Leyla Norman has been a writer since 2008 and is a certified English as a second language teacher. She also has a master's degree in development studies and a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology.