By now, many space enthusiasts have heard that NASA had a record number of applicants during its most recent astronaut application period with more than 18,300 potential candidates. Several news outlets have explained the basic eligibility requirements, but what does it take to actually become one of the select few to join the Astronaut Candidate class?
Before we jump into a bunch of statistics, please note that the information in this post only applies to US citizens. Every space agency has different methods for selecting astronauts, so if you’re outside of the US, you should follow one of the links below to find more information about the astronaut application process relevant to your geographic region:
- Canadian Space Agency (CSA)
- China National Space Administration (CNSA)
- European Space Agency (ESA)
- Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)
- Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos)
The path to becoming an astronaut is not only highly competitive; it is also quite lengthy. According to NASA’s website, the timeframe for selecting the newest astronaut class will take more than a year.
NASA’s 2017 Astronaut Candidate Selection Calendar
|December 14, 2015||Application opens|
|February 18, 2016||Application closes|
|February-September 2016||Qualified applicants reviewed to determine Highly Qualified applicants|
|October-December 2016||Highly Qualified applicants reviewed to determine interviewees|
|February-April 2017||Interviewees report to JSC for interviews, medical evaluations, and orientation|
|May 2017||Finalists determined|
|June 2017||Astronaut Candidate Class of 2017 announced|
|August 2017||Astronaut Candidate Class of 2017 reports to JSC|
In the last round of applications, only 79% of applicants fulfilled the basic requirements; if this statistic remains steady, about 3,800 people in this round will be cut immediately. From there, NASA expects to cut the pool to 400-600 “highly qualified” applicants, out of which approximately 120 people will be invited to Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston for interviews and medical evaluations.
Physical Fitness Test for Astronaut Candidates
Recently, WIRED went to JSC to experience the astronaut physical fitness test. This test includes running, weightlifting, passing a medical exam, and spacesuit maneuvering. All of the candidates invited for interviews will have to complete the astronaut physical. After all of that, the applicants will have to wait a little longer to know their fate. By May of next year, NASA will announce the final 7 to 14 people selected to become part of the Astronaut Candidate Class of 2017. You can do the math…but I’ll do it for you: of the original 18,300 applicants, only about 0.05% will become Astronaut Candidates.
Next August, the new Astronaut Candidates will report to JSC to begin two years of training, and only after completing training will they be considered part of the astronaut corps. And the waiting doesn’t end there; it may take years for a member of the astronaut corps to be selected for a flight. Since a standard mission to the International Space Station lasts six months, flight participants must be carefully selected for compatibility with their counterparts and with specific mission goals. With responsibilities ranging from experimentation to medical examination and flight safety assurance, astronauts are chosen to ensure mission success. While they wait to be selected for a mission, astronauts will serve in various positions in the NASA team, including jobs like CAPCOM or acting as a delegate to foreign space agencies.
Regardless of the odds, we encourage everyone who thinks they might have what it takes to apply! At the very least, you could get a cool rejection letter to frame and add to your space enthusiast collection. And who knows? Maybe you could be on the first mission to Mars.
Don’t forget our annual #TrainLikeAMartian Challenge runs April 18-24, 2016. You can get details and sign up here.