How to become an astronaut
Alan Shepard. Neil Armstrong. Sally Ride. History is replete with the names of famous explorers, and these days, the new frontiers are discovered by a modern breed — astronauts. Their celestial voyages might be a dream come true for anyone who's ever lain under the night sky and wondered about the stars. And while there are few terrestrial stones that remain unturned, the human passion for adventure and discovery remains undaunted.
So how does one become an astronaut? To become an American astronaut, first and foremost, you must be a U.S. citizen or hold dual citizenship. Beyond that, the route isn't always uniform. There are two common paths — military and civilian — as well as a number of educational and physical requirements that all aspiring astronauts must meet.
Educational & physical requirements
At minimum, you must have a bachelor's degree in a field such as engineering, biology, physical science or mathematics. Beyond that, there are a couple of options for the next steps:
- Spending 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command-time on a jet aircraft
- Pursuing 3-years of relevant post-degree experience
The three years of post-degree experience can be replaced by a higher degree level, but it's also important to note that some educational fields aren't eligible. Check the specific degree requirements for astronaut candidacy before you commit to a bachelor's.
In addition to academic and experiential requirements, there are some physical standards candidates must meet. These include:
- Vision that is correctible to 20/20
- Blood pressure below 140/90 while sitting
- An acceptable height, which is between 62 and 75 inches tall
The candidates selected by NASA participate in an astronaut training program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The program takes roughly two years and includes:
- Spacecraft systems
- Zero-gravity simulations
- Monthly flight hours
They also must be SCUBA certified and have to pass military water survival training. Because astronauts are exposed to different atmospheric pressures, candidates have to be comfortable working in a range of conditions.
How much do astronauts make?
The salary landscape for this profession can potentially shift with the introduction of private space companies, both domestic and international. For astronauts who work for the American government, however, annual salaries follow the General Schedule (GS) of pay at ranks GS-11 through GS-14 — $64,724 and $141,715, respectively. There are various “steps,” or bands within these designations, and salaries can be influenced by experience, geographic location and other variables.
Only 330 astronauts have been selected in the history of U.S. space travel, so it's a job with a lot of competition, to say the least. But whether you're dreaming of exploring far off planets or simply curious about how NASA selects this elite crew, it's a fascinating field. Check out the infographic below for more details on the path to becoming an astronaut and a full list of sources.
Additional training, qualifications or certifications may be required. No employment is guaranteed.