(Correction: NASA has changed this requirement as of March, 2020. A master’s degree in STEM is now required to apply)
Season 2, Episode 4 of The Space and Science Show #AskAbby series
Presented by TheMarsGeneration.org
How to Become an Astronaut
In this episode of #AskAbby, aspiring astronaut Abby Harrison aka Astronaut Abby answers the MOST frequent question she gets asked: How do you become an astronaut? For all you aspiring astronauts out there, Abby gives a run-down of all the requirements you need to become an astronaut, the application process, things that will really put your application over the edge, and what mentality to have when you have an out-of-this-world dream.
This episode includes answers to questions like: What should astronauts study in school? What type of degree should you get to become an astronaut? What are the different types of astronaut positions are there to apply for? What are the physical requirements to be an astronaut? What is the average age of an astronaut? Does NASA accept naturalized citizens as astronauts? How competitive is it really to be chosen as an astronaut candidate?
Tune in for new releases of The Space and Science Show #AskAbby series and don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel here so you don’t miss an episode!
Transcription of HOW TO BECOME AN ASTRONAUT
Oh wait let me guess!! Is it, what are black holes?
No, although black holes are really interesting…
Okay then…is it…hmm… “Hey Abby, why is your director so awesome?” (wink)
Uhhhh sadly, it’s not that either, although it’s true!
Wait wait.. Is it “Abby will you marry me?”
No, although, now that I think about it, I do get asked that a lot.
No, today’s question is: “How do I become an astronaut?!”
Welcome to Ask Abby, where every episode I answer a crazy, wacky, zany, out-of-this-world question about space or science submitted by you, the viewers!
So today’s question is: How do I become an astronaut?
I actually wrote a blog post on this question as well, which has everything in this video and more. It’s linked below in the description, and you should definitely go check it out!
First off, the requirements will change depending on which country, company, or agency you’re applying with.
Since NASA has sent the most astronauts into space to date, we’re going to be focusing on the requirements to become a NASA astronaut.
Way back in the day, when we were still just dipping our toes in this whole ‘space’ thing, NASA would actually select their astronauts from the military, from test pilots, which made sense because test pilots already knew how to react under stress and high pressure situations. Since then, there’s been a gradual shift towards selecting more and more civilian astronauts.
This is because, over all, NASA cares more about your academic background–in other words, you’ve gotta be a smart cookie!
So if you’re watching this and are dreaming of becoming an astronaut, the best thing that you can be doing right now is focusing on school. That’s right, study hard, form good habits, and stick to them!
Academically, NASA requires a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in either math, science, or engineering from an accredited college or university. (Correction: NASA has changed this requirement as of March, 2020. A master’s degree in STEM is now required to apply) In addition to this, they also require that you have a minimum of three years of professional experience in your field of choice.
Luckily, this experience requirement can include higher education. Getting your Master’s degree counts as one year of experience, whereas getting your PhD counts as all three.
You can also substitute 1000 hours of pilot in command time in an aircraft for those years of experience. We’ll talk a little more about that in a bit!
To be a NASA astronaut, you also have to be a U.S. Citizen. But if you want to be an astronaut and you’re not a U.S. Citizen right now, don’t worry because NASA also accepts naturalized citizens into the astronaut program.
This means that if you were born outside of the U.S, you first have to become a U.S. Citizen before you can start applying to the NASA astronaut corps.
Moving on, if you want to be a pilot–that is, a spacecraft pilot–you need to both have your pilot’s license and have those 1,000 hours of pilot in command experience that we talked about earlier. A lot of astronauts in the past have gained this time in the Navy or Airforce.
And finally… ya gotta be a healthy bro and pass the NASA physical!
To be a mission specialist, you need to have:
- A distance visual acuity of 20/200, or better, uncorrected, or correctable to 20/20 in each eye.
- You also need to have a blood pressure of 140/90 measured in a sitting position.
- And you need to be between 58.5 and 76 inches in height.
Whereas to be a pilot you need to have:
- A distance visual acuity of 20/100 uncorrected, or correctable to 20/20, in each eye.
- You once again need to have a blood pressure of 140/90 measured in a seated position.
- And you need to have a height between 62 and 75 inches.
Some other physical requirements include not being dependent on drugs or alcohol, not having a psychiatric illness, and also not having another significant disease.
Let’s check in on some of those–
- Bubonic plague, you’re out.
- Lactose Intolerant, sadly, for your crewmates, you’re in.
- Bieber Fever, most definitely out.
“Baby, Baby, Baby, oohhhhhh”
Make it stop!!!
Basically, you just need to be a super healthy individual. Going into space is very taxing on the body. You have radiation, bone density loss, muscle degradation, your cardiovascular system becoming lazy, space adaptation sickness, and so much more. So having a really high baseline of fitness and health before you go to space can help to mitigate some of those effects.
And finally, age! There aren’t actually any age requirements to be a U.S. astronaut, but there is an average. The average age of astronauts is 34, with the youngest astronaut ever in space being 32, which was Sally Ride in 1983.
So, how competitive is it really to become an astronaut?
To put it simply: Extremely.
With it being this competitive to become an astronaut, you really have to think about going above and beyond the minimum requirements if you want to be successful in the application. So here’s a few things that will help you push your application over the top.
The first is learning Russian, which we actually have already done an episode on. It’s linked below if you want to go ahead and watch it. Learning Russian is not a requirement to become an astronaut, but it is a requirement right now to travel in space. So that means that once you get chosen as an astronaut candidate, you have to learn Russian within those two years to a reasonable standard. So you might as well just go ahead and do it now–get a head start on that!
Swimming is also a really important skill since astronaut training includes a lot of scuba diving. It’s one of the best ways that we can simulate microgravity here on Earth. So you know, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.
Advanced degrees also give you an edge. While having a Bachelor’s is the only requirement, most astronauts have at least a Master’s degree, and many also have PhDs.
And finally…a good personality!
When you’re up in space, you’re stuck in very tight quarters with the same people for long lengths of time. And so you have to be able to work well together.
When interviewing astronaut candidates, NASA looks for people who would work well on a team! They look for people who are personable, agreeable, and collaborative so that they can make the best team possible. Cause you know the saying–teamwork makes the dream work! Moreover, NASA looks for people who have a good sense of humor. It helps to diffuse those high stress situations.
Is THAT why you do so many space puns?
Uh, maybe… but uh…y’know, back to business!
The one thing that I really want those of you watching this video to take away, is that yes, becoming an astronaut is extremely difficult, it’s very competitive, there’s a high level of qualification required. But that should not stop you from pursuing this dream in any way, shape or form.
If for some reason, I don’t become an astronaut, because like we’ve talked about, there are a lot of things that can get in the way of that actually becoming true, I still want to become a scientist, an astrobiologist, and do everything that I can to help advance human space exploration.
Besides, if your dreams don’t scare you, you aren’t dreaming big enough.
So with that, go ahead and reach for the stars and maybe land on Mars! (wink)
That’s all the time that we have for #AskAbby. Thank you all for joining me for The Mars Generation’s Space and Science Show, #AskAbby segment!
If you have a question that you would like to see answered here, on Ask Abby, go ahead and tweet it to me using the hashtag #AskAbby or you can go to themarsgeneration.org/askabby, which is linked below, and submit it on the form there.
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Until next time, farewell fellow travelers of spaceship Earth!