How to Become an Astronaut

An astronaut during a spacewalk outside the International Space Station with Earth in the background
Andrey Armyagov /

The thought of becoming an astronaut may seem like something beyond your wildest dreams, a mere idea that seems completely unachievable. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

With hard work and dedication, you too can leave your footprint on the moon! You just need to be familiar with the requirements before you attempt to be the next A.J Frost (a reference for all the Armageddon fans out there).

To find out if you have what it takes to become an astronaut and be sent on a NASA mission to space, read on.

1. Research the Profession

When researching any career path, it’s essential that you have a good idea of the duties it entails, the skills you’ll need, the hours you’ll be expected to work and the type of salary you can command. This can all be found in the overview below.

Job Description

Astronauts are mainly responsible for regulating and operating space stations. Depending on their role, their job duties can vary slightly from becoming a commander and pilot astronaut, a mission specialist or a payload specialist.

  • Commander astronaut: The commander oversees the commanding of either a space shuttle or space station. They are essentially the leader of the crew and are responsible for the overall success of the mission, which includes overseeing the rocket, the crew and the overall safety of the flight.
  • Pilot astronaut: The pilot aids the commander and shares the responsibility of operating the shuttle. The pilot also may help deploy or retrieve satellites and assist with onboard experiments.
  • Mission specialist: While on board, the crew must have a handful of mission specialists who are responsible for maintaining food and supplies, arranging crew activities and conducting experiments, and assisting with payload operations. These experts may also perform spacewalks and support or operate robotic equipment.
  • Payload specialist: Payload specialists are occasionally non-astronauts who are involved in a space mission because they have a specialised skill that applies to the experiment.

When astronauts aren’t in space, they are continually training and are involved in other tasks at NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) or the specific space agency they work for. This includes assisting with scientific research, preparing for a mission or interacting with the crew that is currently in space.

Essential Skills and Qualities

Being an astronaut is dangerous and requires some very unique qualities and characteristics to ensure survival in space. These mainly include:

  • teamwork skillsthe ability to work as part of a team is undoubtedly one of the most vital skills needed in space, especially to ensure the survival of the entire crew
  • intelligence and initiativeintelligence is a key deciding factor to get hired by any space agency, but your initiative is what will pull you through; as an astronaut, you never know what’s going to happen, and you need to be able to think on your feet to find quick solutions
  • communication skillslike teamwork, excellent communication skills are essential in space, as you will have to communicate with not only your fellow crew members but also other astronauts and specialists from all across the globe
  • leadership skills – as well as technical skills, space agencies look for good leaders who can listen, make decisions and help their team members succeed; the right candidate needs to be able to lead other crew members through certain tasks and follow rules and protocols at all times.

Working Hours and Conditions

If you are keen on becoming an astronaut, the first two years of your career will be tiresome. You’ll spend all your time away from home, training and conducting evaluations. Then, once you qualify and get selected as an astronaut, you could be chosen to go on missions. This involves months away from home, in the confined space of a space shuttle with no interaction with your friends and family.

A typical day in space includes a wakeup call at 6:30am, followed by two and a half hours of physical activity to maintain muscle tone and fitness, and three meals throughout the day, before winding down at 9:30pm.

The overall experience of microgravity can be challenging for your brain and body; it decreases the production of red blood cells and weakens your immune system, and it also slows down your cardiovascular system, which is why many astronauts are too weak to walk on their return to Earth. After a mission, it can take double the time to return to your normal self and gain your full strength again.

Salary Prospects

As you can imagine, astronauts are paid well for the hard work and dedication they put into the development of science. According to NASA, “salaries for civilian Astronaut Candidates are based upon the Federal Government's General Schedule pay scale for grades GS-11 through GS-14. The grade is determined in accordance with each individual's academic achievements and experience. Currently, a GS-11 starts at $66,026 (£50,170) per year and a GS-14 can earn up to $144,566 (£109,850) per year.”

In the UK, meanwhile, annual salaries range from £40,000 to £80,000 ($52,640 to $105,280), depending on experience, according to the National Careers Service.

Job Outlook

Although it’s a rather competitive field, the job growth for an astronaut is on the rise. It’s an industry that’s continuing to expand and one with great stability once you manage to get your foot through the door!

There’s also no doubt that partaking in such important and life-changing missions makes this job one of the most rewarding in the world!


2. Get the Qualifications

The minimum training requirement needed to be an astronaut is a bachelor’s degree in engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science or mathematics. In addition, there’s a number of strict eligibility requirements that an astronaut needs to adhere to.

They must:

  • be a citizen of a country with a space agency (such as Russia, USA, China or the UK)
  • have a height of between 5" and 6'3" (153 and 190 cm) for the ESA, or between the 5'2" and 6'3" (157 to 190.5 cm) for NASA
  • pass the necessary physical examinations
  • have 20/20 distant and near visual acuity either with eyewear or corrective surgery (if surgery is chosen, this must be performed a year before training begins)
  • have at least three years of related professional experience obtained after degree completion or a minimum of 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time on jet aircraft
  • be fluent in English, while a second language such as Russian is preferred
  • be a strong swimmer
  • be physically and mentally fit (you must have no diseases or psychiatric disorders).


3. Land Your First Job

A career as an astronaut is highly desired by science-lovers, meaning that the recruitment process is highly competitive.

In order to gain a spot on NASA’s training programme, you’ll need to apply via USAJOBS. Alternatively, if you’re based in Europe, visit the ESA careers webpage for vacancies.

Once you pass the rigorous screening processes and interviews, you’ll be selected for training that will take two years to complete. The training involves classroom learning about the international space station, military water survival training, scuba diver qualifications, flight training and Russian language lessons.

Once an astronaut candidate graduates, they’ll then spend a few years working at NASA assisting with missions before being selected for a flight. Once they are, they’ll need to spend another few years training for a mission before they can fly to space.


4. Develop Your Career

Developing your career as an astronaut is a natural process once you’ve graduated! You’ll gain more experience, partake in missions and develop any necessary skills needed.

With experience, you’ll earn a higher salary, be selected for other missions and can even advance to teaching or managing an entire crew.

As you can see, becoming an astronaut is neither easy nor for the faint-hearted!

You need to be physically and mentally fit to endure months on a space rocket, and you must have the passion for science in order to dedicate your life to the role.

Would you consider becoming an astronaut? Join the conversation below and let us know!


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