Space Facts: Becoming a NASA Astronaut
What are the Space Shuttle Crew Positions?
The three space shuttle crew positions are Commander/Pilot Astronauts, Mission Specialist Astronauts, and Payload Specialists. Pilot Astronauts have onboard responsibility for the vehicle, crew, mission success, and safety of flight. Mission specialist astronauts have overall responsibility for coordinating shuttle operations in the following areas: shuttle systems, crew activity planning, consumables usage, and experiment/payload operations. Payload specialists are persons other than NASA astronauts (including foreign nationals) who have specialized onboard duties; they may be added to shuttle crews if activities with unique requirements are involved and more than the minimum crew size of five is needed.
Who can become an astronaut?
Any U.S. citizen can apply to for the Astronaut Candidate Program. Although the average age of candidates selected in the past ranges from 26-46, there is no age requirement to be an astronaut.
What educational requirements are needed?
A bachelor's degree from accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics is needed, as well as three years of professional experience. An advanced degree is also desirable.
What are the physical requirements needed for the Astronaut Candidate Training Program?
Astronaut candidates must be in excellent physical condition. At Johnson Space Center, they are required to complete military water survival prior to beginning their flying syllabus and become SCUBA qualified to prepare them for extravehicular activity training. Consequently, all Astronaut Candidates will be required to pass a swimming test during their first month of training. They must swim 3 lengths of a 25M pool without stopping, then swim 3 lengths of the pool in a flightsuit and tennis shoes. The strokes allowed are freestyle, breaststroke, and sidestroke. There is no time limit. They must also tread water continuously for 10 minutes.
In addition, astronaut candidates must pass medical exams by NASA physicians and must have keen vision. Mission Specialist Astronaut Candidates and Pilot Astronaut Candidates have additional requirements, which vary slightly.
What is the competition like to get into the Astronaut Candidate Training Program?
Competition is extremely keen, with an average of more than 4,000 applicants for about 20 openings every 2 years. Astronaut recruiting occurs periodically.
How many astronauts have already been selected?
There are currently 108 astronauts and 36 management astronauts in the program; 133 astronauts have retired or resigned; and 35 are deceased.
When will NASA be selecting astronaut candidates again?
NASA accepts applications for the Astronaut Candidate Program on a continuing basis and selects candidates every two years, if needed.