8th October, 2019

How To Become An Astronaut

By Michael H

How many people wanted to be astronauts when they were little?

For some it was watching Star Trek and Star Wars and getting a sense of extraterrestrial wanderlust, for others it was simply looking up at the night sky and wanting to learn more about outer space. 

There are only a handful of people in the world that have had the privilege to go to space, and it’s likely that in the not too distant future, we’ll see the first people set foot on Mars, who right now are only dreaming of being astronauts.

Did you know that the word Astronaut comes from the latin meaning of ‘Star Sailor’? For those that are keen to ‘sail’ the stars, here are some fun facts about the process of becoming an astronaut. 

What do Astronauts actually do other than count down from 10?

Well their jobs can be incredibly varied and not too different from other jobs here on Earth.

Most of their time will be split between maintaining and repairing the spacecraft but depending on the mission, they might also be carrying out different experiments and research, like testing how flowers grow in space.

Tests including physics, chemistry and biology have been carried out in space and have contributed to lots of scientific advancements across the world.

From collecting data, cleaning and maintaining life-support systems, to repairing instruments, or even just taking in the view, there is plenty to do as an astronaut.

Let’s go back 60 years!

In 1959, the US military selected the first astronauts and had very specific requirements ranging from a background in engineering and flight experience in jet aircraft, to being shorter than 5 ft 11 inches.

Because of the scientific knowledge needed, from 1964 onwards, NASA and other Space organisations began looking at recruiting scientists with the ability to apply their knowledge to operating the space crafts.

Unsurprisingly, astronauts aren’t recruited all the time. Most organisations like NASA only recruit once every few years and so when the opportunity presents itself, don’t hesitate!

In 2016 there was a record breaking number of applicants to NASA with more than 18,300 people submitting their name to be considered, 3X the amount of people who applied in 2012.

Those 18,300 people were cut down to the 120 most highly qualified people who were then invited to Texas for interviews. 

Once selected, astronauts go through a 2 year training period!

Astronaut Orbit Earth SpaceSuit

So what are the things that you need to become an astronaut? Check out our list of 5 factors you need to consider before sending in your application.

An astronaut’s checklist...

Nationality - If you want to apply to work for a space agency, you have to be a citizen of a country that works with one. Luckily, the United Kingdom is one of 20+ countries who are part of the European Space Agency and so Britons are eligible to apply.

Qualifications - You’ll need a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree to sign up to be an astronaut and it will have to be in a relevant subject like Engineering, Maths, Physical or Biological Sciences. Pilot astronauts, who are responsible for flying the rockets, will also need 1000s of hours of flight experience and often come from a military background. Impressive grades can help with any job application but especially when competing to be an astronaut.

Physical Characteristics - There are several attributes you’ll need to have the best chance of being chosen as an astronaut for a space agency. Some are in your control, and others aren’t. Many qualified applicants fall at the hurdle of fitness levels but it is important that astronauts are in peak physical condition. Your eye sight must be correctable to 20/20 vision, but you are allowed to use glasses to reach this goal. And you also have to be the right height. The European Space Agency only accept applicants who are between 1.53m and 1.9m, but there’s not much you can do about that if you don’t ‘reach’ that particular standard.

Necessary Skills - An interest in space and science degree will only get you so far. There are a variety of skills you’ll also need to exhibit in order to show why you’d be a good astronaut. From teamwork and problem solving, showing you can handle the day to day tasks of working on a rocket, to coping with small living spaces like the International Space Station, and keeping calm in high pressure situations.

Luck - Hiring windows at space agencies are like comets. Rare. NASA hires a new team of potential space explorers every few years but the European Space Agency has only had 3 hiring windows since 1978. As most astronauts are between 27 and 37 years old, if you’re not the right age when the organisation is looking for new recruits, then you might miss your chance to join Neil, Buzz and Tim Peake with ‘astronaut’ as your job title.

Neil Armstrong Man On The Moon Landing 1969

But being an astronaut is one of 100s of jobs you can have in the world of astronomy and space exploration. Take a look at other jobs you can have and still make an impact on the way we explore space.

Researcher - Are you highly organised and good at executing highly technical work? You could help design and implement a variety of experiments that will aid in the safety and function of the space shuttles.

Technician - There are multiple hands on roles that will allow you to be involved in day-to-day maintenance of telescopes right up to the manufacturing of satellites.

Engineer - Utilise mathematical and scientific skills in other ways by ensuring safety in space by maintaining all the equipment, tools, and parts of a spacecraft. From the engine itself to oxygen production systems, and right down to electrical elements of the communications, Engineering touches every part of a space shuttle. Check out our interview with a NASA Engineer to learn more >

Software Developer - Use your knowledge of coding to perform data management and analysis for different applications. Develop scripts and tools that will be used from launch and onboard a shuttle.

Accountant - This may not be seen as the most glamorous job role, but it is an important role to continue the research and action of space related projects. A numerical and analytical brain is needed to keep track of large sums of money. Did you know that an entire space suit costs $12m? And 70% of that cost is just for the backpack and control module.

Does your child fantasise about going into outer space? Do they want to be an astronaut but need that extra push to get the best grade in science? 

Find a science tutor who can help your child reach their potential, tackle difficult topics, and achieve the best grade possible and they could one day be an astronaut and go down in history. Search your local area for your perfect match today.

Filter by level of study, distance, and even by specific science subject like “Physics” and start your child’s journey to better learning and to becoming an astronaut or other space exploration career.

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