How to Become an Astronaut

The role of an astronaut is both a mentally and physically challenging one that requires a great many hours spent in space under intense conditions. Astronauts must be highly trained to venture into space for the purpose of conducting research on the earth’s atmosphere. The job is a grueling yet incredibly inspiring one like no other.

Astronauts need to be alert to potentially life-threatening dangers while living in cramped living quarters for extended periods of time. Before hiring someone you must ensure that they have the required training and qualifications for the position as this job is a very intense one.


The vast majority of Astronauts are recruited from the military. Most of them are either American or Russian as these are the only two countries currently with the ability to send people in to space. Both countries, however, do accept astronauts from other countries on missions, such as the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Canadian Space Agency. The astronauts from these agencies are usually civilian scientists.

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This will depend on the role that you are looking for. There are three main types of astronaut job roles: mission specialist, payload specialist and a pilot/commander.

Duties and responsibilities

Astronauts are responsible for regulating and operating space stations. They must also manage space missions in difficult and challenging environments that most human beings would find very difficult to endure.

Commander and Pilot Astronaut: This person is in overall command and pilots the shuttle. They are also in command of the space station if that is their destination. NASA states that it is not a requirement to be a military pilot in order to pilot a shuttle. But the fact that all of their pilots have always been military means that you effectively have to be.

Mission Specialists: These astronauts have detailed knowledge of all the ship and space station systems. They are also responsible for carrying out repairs, space walks and operating remote manipulator systems. Mission specialists do not have to be military, either, however, the vast majority of them have been. 

Payload Specialists: A payload specialist is person who is added to a shuttle flight when a specific skill is needed. First preference is given to NASA Mission specialists. But this is the role that is usually filled by a foreign national if one is available.


Most astronauts are recruited from the military and they remain on active duty even after they complete their astronaut training. These astronauts continue to receive their military salary and benefits which are not disclosed.

Civilian astronauts, however, are given a grade of GS-11 to GS-14. The pay for these civilians ranges from a minimum of $64,724 for GS11 to a maximum of $141,715 for GS14.


The pilot commander role has the most demanding requirements:

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics. Master’s Degree or Doctorate is preferred.
  • A minimum of 1000 hours of jet flight experience is needed. The preference is for test flight experience.

The Mission specialists and payload specialists have some different requirements, but overall they are quite similar:

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics. Master’s Degree or Doctorate is preferred Academic qualifications must be followed by at least three years of related professional experience. An advanced degree is preferable but it is possible to substitute it for the entire experience requirement (master’s degree = 1 year of experience, doctoral degree = 3 years of experience).

All applicants are also required to pass a NASA space physical:

  • Distance visual acuity: 20/200 or better uncorrected, correctable to 20/20, each eye. (20/100 for pilots)
  • Blood pressure: 140/90 measured in a sitting position.
  • Height between 58.5 and 76 inches. (62- 75 for pilots)

As well as this, all applicants must undertake extensive interviews, psychological testing and written exams.

Even if they manage to pass astronaut selection, only eight candidates are chosen out of over ten thousand applicants, and then they are still subjected to two years of intense training. This is necessary so that they can successfully operate both the shuttle and space stations. It is also designed to prepare them for every eventuality as well as prepare them both mentally and physically for the rigors of space travel. Even after all of that it will be years more until they actually fly into space.

Despite all of the obstacles to becoming an astronaut, former astronauts think it is worth it. After all if you are successful then you get to go into space. So although it could possibly be the most difficult career path in the world, for those who make it, it is definitely worth all the hard work.