If you dream of flying in space, your marks will have to be in the stratosphere
of academic excellence. The competition is sky high.
Out of 4,000 applications, the astronaut selection office at the Johnson
Space Center in Houston chooses around 20 candidates every two years
for the positions of commander and mission specialist.
NASA requires astronaut candidates to have a bachelor's degree (although
a graduate degree is preferred) with a major in the space-related fields
of engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics. Check
with the astronaut selection office -- certain fields, such as aviation, don't
NASA also requires at least three years of related professional experience.
Pilots, for instance, must have logged at least a thousand hours of jet pilot
All candidates must pass a physical exam. A swimming test is required
-- three laps around a pool in a flight suit and tennis shoes. This is to
ensure that the potential astronauts have excellent vision, hearing and health,
can do their jobs in the unusual work environment of space, and will perform
well in an emergency.
Next, the selected candidates begin a one- to two-year training program
at the Johnson Space Center. Candidates study shuttle systems and a dizzying
array of space-related subjects, including meteorology, navigation, oceanography,
orbital dynamics, astronomy and materials processing.
They also take land and sea survival courses, learn to adjust to microgravity
in a controlled water tank, and take flights in the famous "Vomit Comet"
-- a modified jet aircraft that can induce weightlessness for up to 20 seconds
at a time. The aircraft gets its name from the fact that some of the trainees
experience nausea during this exercise.
Candidates for the pilot position fly 15 hours a month and practice shuttle
landings in the shuttle training aircraft. Mission specialist candidates must
also fly a minimum of four hours a month.
In full-scale mockups of the shuttle, candidates learn how to prepare
meals, handle equipment, conduct experiments and exit the craft in the event
of an emergency. Mission specialist candidates also practice using the
mechanical arm of the shuttle on a detailed mockup of the payload bay.
To get ready, take all the advanced science and mathematics courses
in high school that you can. You'll also need to be proficient in computers
and computer programming.
Outside of school, a pilot's license is an invaluable asset, notes
Berthier Desjardins, who works in astronaut selection. "If you're going to
be an astronaut, you'll have to learn to fly anyway," he says.
You might also consider joining a cadet group or the Scouts.
Occupational Outlook HandbookFor information related to this field of study, see: Engineers
Astronaut ProgramInformation from NASA
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