NASA astronaut standing on moon saluting american flag

How to Become an Astronaut: Everything You Need to Know

Read Time: 4 minutes

What did you want to be when you grew up? If you asked a lot of children of our generation, the answer was probably “astronaut” at one point. But becoming an astronaut isn’t as easy as submitting a job application or a resume. It takes years of training and schooling to finally make it into astronaut training, and then even more time to make it to space.

So — how do you become an astronaut? What do you need to do?

Starting Young

Becoming an astronaut isn’t something you can decide to do on a whim. It can take years of work and training to become ready to fly into space, both mentally and physically. The best thing you can do is start young. Visit the different NASA space centers, go to Space Camp and start exercising. Cross-country and track are popular choices for astronauts.

Studying other languages is a good idea, too. While it isn’t required, it’s recommended to learn Russian, especially since all manned launches are currently completed in Kyrgyzstan. Science has shown that it is much easier to learn a new language as a child than as an adult, so the earlier you start the easier it will be to learn that second language.

Focus on getting good grades, especially in STEM classes like science and math, and staying in top physical condition.

Once you’ve graduated from high school, there are three mandatory requirements to have in order to qualify as an astronaut. Let’s take a closer look at these requirements.

Requirement One: Education

The first necessary requirement to become an astronaut is an education. You’ll need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Typically astronauts have a degree (or more) in engineering, mathematics or some branch of science. Just like in high school, you will want to make sure you excel in your classes — NASA isn’t just looking at your degree, they’re looking at your grades too!

Continuing your education for a Master’s Degree or a Doctorate is a great feather in your cap. If you’re wondering how to become an astronaut, a bachelor’s degree is only the minimum requirement.

Requirement Two: Experience

The second requirement to become an astronaut is experience. To be more specific, you need relevant experience. Astronauts need a minimum of three years of professional experience in order to qualify for astronaut class selection. Pilots need at least 1,000 hours of in-command pilot time, but even astronauts who aren’t flying the spacecraft can benefit from a pilot’s license. It looks good on your resume, if nothing else. We’ll talk more about that in a minute.

Requirement Three: Physical

The third requirement to help you learn how to become an astronaut is the physical exam. NASA needs to ensure you can work in and survive the physical rigors of space travel. You are required to have vision that can be corrected to 20/20, so if you currently wear glasses or contact lenses, don’t worry — you can have Lasik surgery and still qualify to be an astronaut.

You also must have a healthy blood pressure — less than 140/90 while sitting — and be between 158 and 190 cm tall, which is 5’1” to 6’2”.

One requirement of your first month of training involves swimming 75 meters without stopping, both in swimwear and in a flight suit. In addition, have you tread water for 10 minutes in a flight suit to test your ability to survive during a water landing.

You will also be subjected to the “vomit comet.” This is an aircraft designed to simulate microgravity conditions by reaching high altitudes and diving toward the earth. These maneuvers, also called “parabolic maneuvers,” mimic the conditions you might experience in orbit or during launch and landing maneuvers.

Optional Requirement: Be Well-Rounded

NASA isn’t just looking at your test scores and your work experience when they consider you for a position as an astronaut. They’re looking for well-rounded individuals with all sorts of different experience. SCUBA certifications, pilots’ licenses and even playing an instrument can help set you apart from the thousands of people who apply for astronaut training every year.

More than 8,000 people applied to become astronauts last year. How many were accepted for training? Just eight.

Becoming an astronaut might be one of the most exciting careers out there, but it isn’t easy and it’s something you need to start training and planning for early. Get your degree, have plenty of hobbies and don’t skimp on your physical training and maybe you’ll be one of the select few on that list next time NASA picks new astronauts.

It would be pretty amazing to be on that final frontier as we start exploring Mars and beyond. Astronauts are, quite literally, the best of the best — and if you want to count yourself among their number, it’s important to start early.

This article originally published on 9/11/18 and was updated 5/3/19 to include an explainer video.
How to Become an Astronaut: Everything You Need to Know
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Category: Space


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Article by: Megan Ray Nichols

Megan Ray Nichols is a freelance science writer and science enthusiast. Her favorite subjects include astronomy and the environment. Megan is also a regular contributor to The Naked Scientists, Thomas Insights, and Real Clear Science. When she isn't writing, Megan loves watching movies, hiking, and stargazing.