Do you want to learn what it takes to become an Astronaut? If YES, here is a complete guide plus requirements you need to become an Astronaut.

Astronauts are individuals that are engaged in activities that are related to human space exploration. The visible part of their job takes place while in space or orbit, but most of their careers are spent on ground, training and supporting other missions. They gather information and conduct experiments while on a space flight. Apart from space experiments, they also conduct experiments on the spacecraft so as to develop new concepts in areas like design, engineering and how a vehicle can be navigated outside the earth’s atmosphere.

It takes many years of education and experience before one can become an astronaut, and many people that apply aren’t accepted on their first try. Thousands of applicants apply for a small percentage of openings, thereby making the job one of the hardest jobs to get.

Who is an Astronaut?

An astronaut is a person that has been trained to work as a member of a crew in a spacecraft, or pilot, to navigate a spacecraft into outer space. They are indeed very talented and skilled professionals who do their best to stay professional at all times.

Duties of an Astronaut and their Job Description

There are various tasks that are required of an astronaut and these tasks should be carried out meticulously. Astronauts carry out various duties and job responsibilities while on a shuttle, or aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

  • As a Commander Astronaut, which can be either on a shuttle or space station, the astronaut is responsible for the mission’s overall success. The success includes the safety of the crew and flight, and overseeing the vehicle.
  • As a Pilot Astronaut, he or she is an assistant to the commander and shares in the responsibilities and tasks. He or she might also help to deploy or retrieve satellites, as well as assist with experiments on-board.
  • As a Mission Specialist, he or she maintains supplies and food, arrange crew activities, conduct experiments as well as assist with the operations payload. They also perform space walks, take part in extra vehicular activities, as well as support or operate robotic equipment.
  • Between missions, some are assigned to professionals that communicate with astronauts in space.
  • They also help prepare and help out in the launch of those headed for space.
  • Help space scientists in design and text experiments.
  • Repair and retrievals are usually handled by astronauts using a variety of sophisticated equipment. Repairs are usually made in space walks.
  • Clean and test air filters and quality
  • Repair, maintain and test oxygen production systems.
  • Clean, maintain and test water systems for bacterial growth.
  • Exercising while in space so as to help reduce loss of muscle and bone density.

Tools or Equipment of the Trade for an Astronaut

  • Safety Tethers
  • Pistol-Grip Tool
  • Trace Gas Analyzer
  • Robotic Arm
  • Robot Crane
  • Primary Life Support Subsystem
  • Upper Torso
  • Hard Upper Torso
  • Arms
  • EVA Gloves
  • Displays and Control Module
  • In-Suit Drink Bag
  • Lower Torso Assembly
  • Helmet
  • Extravehicular Visor Assembly
  • Communications Carrier Assembly
  • Liquid Cooling and Ventilation Garment
  • Maximum Absorption Garment
  • Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue (SAFER)
  • Wrist Mirror
  • Layers
  • Cuff Checklist

How to Become an Astronaut – A Complete Guide

Facts, Figures and Labor Market Situation

  • United States

As at 2015, according to NASA there are 46 active astronauts and 36 management astronauts that are no longer eligible for flight assignment. The year 200, had the highest number of active astronauts – 149 astronauts. There are over 40 female astronauts who have been on flight assignments.

  • To become an astronaut in NASA, one would need to be a natural or naturalized US citizen.
  • NASA is only interested in bachelor’s degrees in the fields of engineering, physical science, biological science, or mathematics from an accredited university.
  • A doctorate also counts as a 3 year progressively responsible professional experience required by NASA.
  • K-12 educators (teachers) are often recruited by NASA.
  • There are slightly different requirements for Pilots and Commanders, Mission Specialists and Payload Specialists.
  • Selected successful astronaut applicants are called Astronaut Candidates, and are assigned to the Astronaut Office at the Johnson Space Center in Texas.
  • Candidate astronauts may not necessarily become astronauts, especially as they would have to pass candidate courses. Those who pass the courses become federal employees, but might not still become astronauts even though they will end up working in NASA.

United Kingdom

The UK has always collaborated with either America or Russia to send astronauts into space. To date, the UK has had 7 active astronauts.

  • The UK Space Agency invests in manned spaceflights via the European Space Agency (ESA).
  • The UK Space Agency was established in 2010, replacing the British national Space Centre.
  • The UK Space Agency provides only 9.9% of the budget for the European Space Agency.
  • Most spaceflights are currently funded by the government.
  • The few British born astronauts that have gone to space, launched with either the American or the Russian space programs.
  • The educational entry qualification is a PDG and PhD in Biology, Physics, Engineering, Chemistry, Mathematics and Information Technology.
  • The entry requirement for experience is at least 1,000 hours of flying experience in high performance jets.
  • Each entry route requires at least 3 years’ experience in a field of expertise.
  • The required age range is between 27 and 37.
  • The last recruitment in the European Space Agency (ESA) took place in 2008.
  • The United Kingdom did not provide funding for the International Space Station (ISS) until 2011.

Australia

Australia has no space agencies but was the 4th nation to put a satellite into space. The only Australian astronaut in space is an American aerospace engineer and a NASA astronaut.

  • Australia’s space future is still emerging, even though they were the 4th nation to put a satellite in space.
  • In 2014, a new Space Environment Management Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) was launched by the Australian government.
  • The Australian Youth Aerospace Forum (AYAF) is held for Year 11 and 12 students who are motivated, and is a 5 day event.
  • University students can join either the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) or the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).
  • Those with engineering backgrounds can apply to attend the Australian Youth Aerospace Association (AYAA)

Canada

There have been 12 Canadian astronauts since the establishment of the Canadian Astronaut Program in 1983. There are currently 2 active astronauts.

  • Marc Garneau was the first Canadian in space.
  • Canadian astronauts live in Texas, and work at NASA Johnson Space Center in the United States.
  • The final launch of the Space Shuttle program from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) was in 2011.
  • Eight of the twelve Canadian astronauts have flown on 16 space missions.

What is the Market Demand Level for Astronauts?

Even though there are thousands of hopeful astronauts, the manned shuttle program is on the demise. NASA’s astronaut ranks have greatly reduced from 150 to 61, between 2000 and 2011. Countries like the U.K have just 7 active astronauts and Canada has just 2.

Effect of Internet Technology on the Profession

Internet technology has an impact on aerospace and astronauts. This is the same way it does on other professions. Therefore we are going to see what the situation is like with the astronaut profession.

The Positives

  • Due to the internet, astronauts in space can send emails and communicate with their families.
  • There has been an improvement in communication with astronauts in space and on earth, due to the internet.
  • Intending astronauts can get resources from the internet as regards being an astronaut plus tips too.
  • Astronauts can use the social media to educate the audience on how to become astronauts.

The Negative(s)

Failed missions which results into deaths have a far reaching impact via the internet, than it would ordinarily have.

Career Opportunities That Exist Within the Astronaut Profession

  • Physicist: This is a scientist that specializes in physics research. Physicists study how particles from ordinary matter are made to conform to the behavior of the material universe as a whole.
  • Biologist: Biologists study living things such as plants and animals, in relation to the world they live in.
  • Astronomer: This is a scientist that studies the planets, stars, comets, moons, galaxies, and other celestial objects.
  • Chemist: A chemist studies the composition of matter and its properties, especially in terms of quantities with detail on the level of molecules and its component atoms.
  • Biochemist: This is a scientist who studies the physical and chemical principles of living things.
  • Research Scientist: These are scientists who devise and conduct experiments so as to increase the body of scientific knowledge as regards topics related to medicine.

What Are the Associations Within The Profession?

Astronauts are employed by a country’s space agency and they have few relevant associations which they belong to. This is important for them to be recognized.

United States

The Association of Space Explorers USA (ASE USA): This is a non-profit organization that represents current and former astronauts and cosmonauts, by using the perspectives of its members to promote the global benefits of space science.

United Kingdom

The Association of Space Explorers Europe (ASE Europe): This is an association that seeks to unify the efforts of astronauts and cosmonauts in reinforcing international cooperation as regards the exploration of space for the good of mankind.

There are no associations for Canadian Astronauts, and Australia does not have a space agency.

What is The Benefit of Becoming an Astronaut?

Being an astronaut is a great career decision that comes with a lot of benefits. Apart from the monetary benefits, there are other things to be considered. The benefits of being an astronaut are a bit weird and they are:

Having what to wear: An astronaut doesn’t have to worry about what he will wear as there is a standard uniform which includes, a puffy white suit, a helmet, and a square backpack that is attached to a thick tube.

Being in outer space: Very few individuals have physically left the earth to outer space, only astronauts have this privilege. This to them is an incredible experience as they get to see and touch only things we have heard of.

Prestige: Since only very few individuals can be astronauts, there is a prestige that is attached to the title as people always want to identify with astronauts.

Perspective: Being an astronaut especially those that have had to leave the earth and view the earth from afar, gives one a perspective and an appreciation of one’s place in the world.

Zero Gravity: This means an astronaut floats in the air without having to use any energy to support their weight. They also move around just by pushing off from a surface, their velocity remaining constant after they have set themselves in motion.

Center of Attraction: During social situations or gatherings, astronauts are always the center of attraction since everyone will like to listen or talk to one who has been to outer space.

What are The Factors That Discourages One from becoming an Astronaut?

There are challenging factors that can discourage one from being an astronaut. These factors are enough to make people stay away from the trade. They include:

Bone and Muscle Loss: This is the side effect of long term weightlessness. What keeps the bones strong is the stress of the earth’s gravity. In space however, the bones undergo little or no stress, and this leads to the bones and muscles deteriorating over time. Scientists have not been able to figure out how to fully recuperate from all of the bone loss.

Fluid Redistribution: Gravity pools blood and other fluids in the body’s lower parts, but a lack of gravity redistributes the blood and fluids throughout the anatomy. This causes the brain to interpret this as high fluid level, causing one to excrete more fluids which leads  to dehydration.

Space Adaptation Syndrome: This is something caused by a weakened immune system in a zero gravity environment. The symptoms include headaches and nausea.

Inhalation Problem: As astronauts float, so do objects that are not properly secured especially food particles or water, or even shaved hair. Astronauts have to be especially careful so that they don’t inhale the wrong things that are likely to choke them.

Balance Disorders: Balance disorders are usually suffered after a return to earth; this might include a control balance, or disorientation in the inner ear. Also, astronauts suffer from dizziness for days leaving them somewhat incapacitated until they regain their sense of equilibrium.

How Much Do Astronauts Earn?

Astronauts are professionals who work for the government.

United States: The salaries of astronauts depend on if they are federal civilian employees, or members of the U.S armed forces.

NASA assigns a pay grade of general schedule of GS-11, 12, 13 or 14 to civilian astronauts based on education, experience, or academic performance.

As at 2013, GS-11 ranged from $50,287 and $65,371. GS-12 earned between $60,274 and $78,355; GS-13 earned between $71,674 and $93,175, while GS-14 earned between $84,697 and $110,104. Each salary is exclusive of 28.71 locality pay adjustment.

Military astronauts earn same basic pay as any other service member as regards to rank equivalence and service time. As at 2013, basic pay ranged between $34,516.80 and $43,430.40 for O-1 and $72,777.60 and $128.840.40 for O-6. This is outside their allowances for housing, food and incentive pay.

United Kingdom

New recruits earn around £39,000 per year, and £58,000 per year after basic training. After the first space flight, salaries increase to an average of £67,000 per year.

Australia

Currently have no astronauts, and the only Australian born astronauts will receive an appropriate salary according to education, academic performance and experience under NASA.

Canada

Astronauts earn between $50,000 and $150,000 per year depending on experience.

How long does it take to become an Astronaut?

There are various time frames by which one can become an astronaut. The length of time it takes before one can become an astronaut after a bachelor’s degree and a compulsory 3 years’ experience or doctorate degree is:

United States, it would take a minimum of 2 years before one can become an astronaut, assuming one gets in after the first try.

United Kingdom, it would take an intensive training of 40 months.

Canada, it would take 2 years.

Australia, any intending astronaut will have to go the NASA route of 2 years, or the ESA route of 40 months.

Educational Requirements Needed to Become an Astronaut

Every profession has the time frame by which they make professionals ready to practice a trade. The educational requirements needed to become an astronaut are basically the same across most countries:

United States

There are two major classes of astronaut applicants; the military and the civilian applicants.

Civilian Applicants mostly use the approach below, while the military applicants who have to apply via their respective branch might start with the third point:

Bachelor’s Degree: The only fields NASA is interested in from an accredited institution are biological science, engineering, mathematics or physical science, which would take 4 years. NASA could also accept degrees in Aviation Management or Geography.

Masters: It is preferred that astronauts own a Master’s degree in their field. This is usually counted as one year experience.

Doctorate: An intending astronaut must also have at least 3 years of related, progressively responsible, professional experience which can be gotten from the business world or military; get a doctorate, at least 1,000 hours as a pilot-in-command for either the U.S military or commercial airlines or be a K-12 educator.

*A K-12 educator or teacher qualifies to be an astronaut through the act of teaching, even elementary school children.

Training: After applying and passing the initial screening, the astronaut candidate then undergoes a rigorous training and evaluation program. The training consists of PADI certification, complete military survival training, and endure hours of classroom education where one is being taught the ins and outs of being in space. All astronauts must be flight proficient on a T-38 aircraft, putting in a number of hours per month.

United Kingdom

One can apply to become an astronaut based on academic qualifications, or aircraft pilot experience.

To apply using the academic qualification, one would need to have a PhD in subjects such as Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Information Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, after studying to a postgraduate level.

To apply via experience as a pilot, one would need a minimum of 1,000 flight hour experience in a high performance aircraft.

Whichever route one takes would need at least 3 years’ experience in the field of expertise.

The selection process takes around 2 months. Once accepted into the European Astronaut Corps, a 40 months intensive training program would start. The intensive training is broken into 3 phases and takes place in Germany or in ISS partner trainer sites:

Basic Training: This takes 16 months and teaches intending astronauts on what it takes to become one.

Advanced Training: This is for 1 year and teaches would be astronauts how to fly, service, and operate different modules. Also, scientific experiments would be taught. This training stage takes place in ISS and flight stimulators after which one is eligible for spaceflight missions.

Mission-specific training: This takes place on a mission and is usually for 6 months.

Canada

The educational pre-requisites are same with that of the United States. Once selected by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), astronaut candidates are eligible to go for;

Basic Training: This starts at the CSA and continues for 2 years at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas. After this, they are given the title of ‘astronaut’.

ISS Advanced Training: This is a joint project where expedition astronauts receive training in all Space Station onboard systems, and also participate in cross-cultural training. This lasts for a year.

Certifications

Yes, one would need advanced degrees to become an astronaut.

In the United States, one can take Advanced Open Water Certification.

In the United Kingdom, one can take flight certifications.

In Canada, one can take a SCUBA certification.

In Australia, one can take a SCUBA certification.

How Much Does it Cost to become an Astronaut?

The cost for the certifications would be:

In the U.S, PADI certification would cost approximately $400

In the UK, a flight certification might cost between £22,000 and £34,000

In Canada, a regular SCUBA dive would cost $380

In Australia, a typical SCUBA diving would cost $200

Can One Acquire a Degree Online To Become an Astronaut?

No, one cannot become an astronaut by taking an online course. One can take the pre-requisite courses required like Physics, Chemistry etc but one cannot become an astronaut especially as being one requires a hands-on or practical experience from other job experiences like being a pilot.

Career Opportunities within the Astronaut Profession

In the astronaut profession, there are several opportunities that are open to one. The other career opportunities open to an astronaut are:

  • Engineers: Engineers make space exploration travel possible because they design space crafts, space stations, space vehicles and space satellites that help us in understanding the weather and climate conditions better. There are different types of engineers in space science like Computer Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, Robotics Engineers, Avionics & Instrumentation Engineers, Space craft Engineers, Aeronautical Engineers and Telecommunications Engineers.
  • Space Scientists: Space scientists are those that carry out research and development careers in space science. Pharmacology researchers, for instance, investigate ways new medications can be made from substances discovered from space exploration trips.
  • Technologists and Technicians: Technologists work with engineers and scientists to build, test, as well as perfect different types of space technology and innovations. There are different kinds of technologists and technicians like Laser Technicians, Robotic Technicians, Radar Technicians, Satellite Technologists, Electricians, and Computer Aided Design (CAD) Operators.
  • Authors: An author is one who has written a book or piece either fiction or non-fiction – where his experiences can be written down for others to read, and for intending astronauts to get useful tips from.
  • Movie Consultants: Movies that are based on space flight, alien worlds and planets require tips from one with practical experience to make the movie as close to reality as possible.

It is left for one to choose which suits him or best best to practice before delving into the trade in the first place.

What are The Skills Needed To become a Successful Astronaut?

The skills and personal traits needed by an astronaut to either survive a space agency’s selection process; work as pilots who fly space crafts, or as mission specialists who conduct experiments are as follows:

  1. Intelligence: Space agencies look out for above average intelligence, not from being book smart alone but also from the ability to handle unexpected problems. Apart from this, astronauts also need intellectual creativity that are curious enough to dream up new avenues which would lead to innovative research into spaced-based medicine and materials for use on earth and in space.
  2. Adaptability and Flexibility: Due to the many responsibilities astronauts have in space, they need flexibility in order to be able to move to different tasks. Also, astronauts work in teams and mostly with people of different nationalities and cultures, and they need to adapt and be open-minded as regards diversity. This includes the willingness to change routines so as to accommodate new procedures.
  3. Physical Condition: Space agencies like NASA, require that astronaut candidates pass a physical test equivalent to that of the military. These include eyesight of 20/100, or better uncorrected/correctable in each eye to 20/20; blood pressure not above 140/90, height requirements between 58 ½ and 75 inches, and also meet military water survival standards.

They also must be qualified in SCUBA so as to prepare for spacewalk training; with their bodies responding well to high and low atmospheric pressures.

  1. Mental Endurance: Astronauts must be able to cope with isolation, separation from loved ones, and fear especially during space travel. Some training can last as low as 3 months, and as high as 3 years especially when practicing with international mission partners.
  2. Education: Astronauts need to pass through formal education in an accredited school, with the least educational requirement being a bachelor’s degree. NASA has a preference for candidates with advanced degrees. Apart from a formal education, astronauts need at least 3 years of responsible professional experience in a major field, or at least 1,000 hours as a pilot in command of airplanes. To become an astronaut after graduating from candidate school, the prospects have to pass International Space Station systems training, robotic skills training, aircraft flight readiness training, extravehicular activity skills, and Russian language training.

Advice and Tips Needed To Become a Successful Astronaut

There are several tips that are needed to boost ones performance in the trade. The career tips for astronauts are intended a guide, as reality is sometimes different.

Mental and Physical Preparation: Mentally preparing to be an astronaut requires more than just holding a bachelor’s degree, it is an attempt to excel at whatever field one has chosen. Space agencies require the best of brains and also those that have physically prepared to become astronauts, by making their resumes outstanding.

Sweating the small details: The difference between an astronaut who sweats out the small details and one who doesn’t is that the latter would end up dead. Sweating out the small stuff involves being competent, improvising solutions to tough problems, determination and preparedness for anything, and this makes a difference in a good performance and a poor one.

Continual learning: Astronauts do not spend all their time in space, most times are used for continuous learning and training. This includes learning what to do in dire situations in space, like removing an appendix, changing orbits to avoid space debris, pulling a tooth, or fixing the toilet.

Not measuring success by big moments: Most astronaut candidates might think the big moments are those while alighting from a space craft, but success is also measured in the trainings undertaken, months or years before being out in space. Because astronauts make a big difference in helping the earth better understand the universe, every little thing done is a success.

Distinguish between perceived and actual danger to overcome fear: An astronaut has to clearly distinguish between perceived fear and actual danger.

A good preparation and knowing one’s options can help overcome fear. An astronaut has to anticipate problems that are likely to occur, and think up solutions in advance so that when they do occur, there is less of a snag.

Teamwork: Realizing that working with others – especially when egos crop up or clash – is vital to a space mission’s success.

The term ‘astronaut’ is not only generally used for professional space travelers but for anyone that travels into space, like educationists, journalists, scientists, politicians and tourists. Astronauts are mainly trained or sponsored by government or civilian space agencies. Recently though, there are a new crop of astronauts referred to as ‘Commercial Astronauts’ funded by private investors. Also in Russia, they are referred to as Cosmonauts.

Astronauts especially those in NASA go through 20 months of training in a variety of areas, with some experiencing short periods of weightlessness especially whilst training for the extravehicular activity. Astronauts also have to accumulate at last 1,000 hours in a high performance aircraft.

Astronauts are vulnerable to a number of health risks that include immunodeficiency, loss of bone and muscle, decompression sickness, loss of eyesight, barotrauma, radiation injury, sleep disturbances and orthostatic.

Ajaero Tony Martins