Want To Become A NASA Astronaut? 10 Facts For Aspiring Space Travelers

The U.S. government’s renewed focus on space has pushed NASA to continue to send astronauts to space and to set new goals that would send humans back to the Moon and beyond to explore the solar system. 

The space agency aims to build a new space station near the Moon for future crewed missions on the lunar surface and to support the future teams who would explore Mars. Such new space initiatives would require NASA to hire more people, especially those who would be willing to go outside Earth and explore new areas. 

In 2017, more than 18,000 Americans joined NASA’s astronaut selection program, according to Space.com. The number may continue to grow in the future as the agency prepares to launch new missions in space.  

To help understand what it takes to be a NASA astronaut, here are the top facts to know for aspiring space travelers:

The requirements to be an astronaut

NASA mainly requires a good physical shape and technical skills to handle tasks aboard a spacecraft or a space station. The agency seeks individuals with a bachelor's degree in engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science or mathematics, with three years of professional experience. 

Having an experience in scuba diving, wilderness survival and leadership are considered as good assets. Knowledge in other languages is also a plus.

The astronaut class

In its initial missions to space, NASA picked members of the military to be astronauts. However, as the agency expands its missions it has started to build a team with more diverse skill sets. 

NASA now hires from former pilots to biologists and even geologists.

How to train to be an astronaut

NASA prepares candidates for future space missions through a set of intense training. Students learn how to spacewalk, handle and fix robotics, how to fly airplanes and how to operate the ISS. 

The selection process

NASA tasks its Astronaut Rating Panel to review the applications of qualified individuals. The group then selects the most highly qualified candidates and cuts the number of applicants to 120 people.

A smaller group, the Astronaut Selection Board, then interviews the applicants and selects the final 50, where NASA will choose the next people to go to space. 

How NASA tells people they are in

The lucky candidates will simply receive a phone call from the head of the Flight Operations Directorate at NASA's Johnson Space Center and the chief of the Astronaut Office. NASA also holds a press conference to announce the new candidates.

However, the agency requires the candidates to share the news only with immediate family until NASA makes an official announcement. 

The duty

The new astronauts commonly take their first tasks at the Johnson Space Center. NASA requires the individuals to leave their current careers and move to Houston along with their families after being sworn into civil service. 

The first space travel

New NASA astronauts tend to go to the ISS to begin their space careers. But this may change soon as the agency, along with international partners, plan to build a Moon-orbiting space station that would house humans for missions in deep space.

The lunar space station would support the ISS that is expected to end operations in 2024. NASA aims to use the new station to send humans to Mars in the 2030s. 

The first space tasks

Aside from enjoying zero gravity, astronauts also work in space to support programs on Earth, such as monitoring weather changes and the impacts of climate change. 

But for first timers, new astronauts initially take technical roles in the Astronaut Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Their tasks include supporting current missions or advising NASA engineers on how to develop future spacecraft. 

How to get to space 

NASA has been using the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to send people to the International Space Station. But the agency has started building the Orion spacecraft to support the U.S. in deep-space explorations. 

International partnerships 

NASA also allows candidates to establish partnerships with the private sector, particularly with companies supporting the agency’s missions and programs. Commercial partners assist astronauts in developing spaceflight hardware, tools and to operate centers that explore human spaceflight.