Imagine seeing the Earth from space, as only a few hundred people have done before. This is the ultimate adventure that many people aspire to, and they apply to join the astronaut corps whenever a space agency opens a call. But what are the steps to become an astronaut? Infoblendr spoke to NASA to find out.
NASA has about 18,000 employees, from janitors to managers, and each one plays a role in the agency’s success. However, there is no doubt that the astronaut position is the one that attracts the most public attention. The job is complex, risky, and highly visible, and it is one of the most important roles at NASA. As pioneers and representatives of Earth, the job is challenging, but not impossible, according to those who are involved in the selection process.
Let’s start with the basic requirements to become a NASA astronaut. In its most recent call for astronauts, NASA required applicants to have a master’s degree in any STEM field. Even though Dr Ellie Arroway wanted to send a poet, being an astronaut is still a technical and scientific career. You also need some work experience. You need at least two years of professional experience or 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in a jet aircraft. Being a jet pilot is not necessary to join NASA, but it is necessary to go to space – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
There is no “i” in team or astronaut The last part of the application is a two-hour online test, which should be easy if you have a STEM degree. Besides the qualifications, you also need to be able to work in tight spaces; spacecraft and space stations are not very roomy. If you meet all these criteria, you might wonder what else you need to stand out. For NASA, it is not only about how good you are at your job, but also about who you are as a person.
“We look for people who have strong technical skills, of course. That’s essential if you want to be in this role for NASA. But we also look for people who have a diverse background. People who have done many things, not only in their work, but also in their life,” NASA Astronaut Selection Manager April Jordan told Infoblendr.
“This is not an easy job to get into. There is a lot of training that you have to do. So when we evaluate you, we look at everything about you, not just your work history, but also your personal interests and hobbies.”
Jordan gives an example of a candidate who had a background in race car driving but did not mention it in their application. But being able to make quick decisions under pressure is crucial in space. An astronaut needs to be flexible and resilient.
“Team skills are very important in this role. You don’t work alone as an astronaut. You work with a team all the time. So when we choose people, we bring them in as a team,” said Jordan, who is also Deputy Human Resources Director. “You train for your missions as a team, and that’s your team