15 things you need to qualify for NASA's astronaut program (pictures)
NASA is officially looking for new space sailors. And the finalists may look very different from what you'd expect
Can you ride the vomit comet?
NASA is recruiting a fresh class of astronauts. The pay ranges from $66,000 to a little over $144,000. Applications have officially closed, but before the finalists get themselves fitted for space suits, they're going to need some pretty specific qualifications, including a cast-iron stomach.
Being strong is important, but having a strong gut is absolutely vital in weightless environments where "singing a rainbow" can cause real problems (in addition to being totally gross).
That's why all astronaut candidates must undergo microgravity training by flying roller-coaster missions in a specially equipped plane. Nicknamed the "vomit comet," it flies steeply up and down, so trainees experience about a half minute of weightlessness going over each hump. Stats: Each flight has 40 to 60 reps, and one in three trainees hurls during their first flight. Wheeeeee!
Astronaut candidates must be able to swim 75 meters without stopping. They also have to swim 75 more meters in a flight suit and tennis shoes, and also be able to tread water for 10 minutes in a flight suit. Whew!
The point is not merely to be emergency splashdown-ready, but also to get scuba qualified for underwater walks in faux weightless conditions. To aid the underwater cause, NASA has created the world's largest swimming pool, where astronauts practice spacewalk techniques and upcoming mission tasks on full-size ISS models.
Not only must astronauts be mentally strong, they must also train to handle extreme physical pressure -- both hyperbaric (high) and hypobaric (low) -- in altitude-simulating chambers. It's an essential part of training for potential emergencies in space.
If you want to joint the astro-elite, you'll need to dedicate at least two years to NASA's training program. Makes sense, given that you'll have to master countless technical processes and systems that make space travel possible.
Bureaucracy is also a factor. Candidates who apply by February 18, and successfully navigate the agency's exacting application and interview process, will be among the new hires announced in August 2017.
Higher education is important if you want to get way higher, as in blasted into Earth's orbit or beyond. Of course it's not just a matter of degrees, but a matter of which degree. You better bring at least a bachelor's degree in science, math or engineering, or you're guaranteed to remain terrestrial.
The International Space Station is, well, international, so communicating with others, especially Russian cosmonauts, is key. Since the retirement of American space shuttles, Russian spacecraft have been our only option up into orbit. So you'd want our astronauts to be able to speak to mission control in Moscow or read the repair manual in a pinch, da? NASA trains candidates in Russian and they have to pass a proficiency test to graduate.
To reach the heights of space, mission specialists need to be between 58.5 inches and 76 inches tall. That rules out some jockeys and pro basketball players, but the vast majority of us can meet this standard. Pilots need to fit into a slightly smaller Goldilocks zone (between 5 feet, 2 inches and 6 feet tall) to reach all the important controls from the driver's seat.
Astronaut candidates' vision must be 20/20, or at least 20/100 in each eye, and correctable to 20/20 with surgery. Passing the NASA flight physical also demands seated blood pressure of 140 over 90 or better. So lay off those fries and get in shape!
No, 66K isn't the planet NASA is shipping you out to (yet). It's your paycheck, as in $66,000 a year to start. This being a government job, you probably didn't expect sky-high wages, right? The high end of the pay scale is $144,566 a year.
To excel as a candidate, your mind and body need to soak up and swiftly master a vast swath of highly technical and intricate information. That includes robotics skills training, aircraft flight readiness, International Space Station systems and advanced spacewalk training. Also, you'll get to know the deep-space Orion spacecraft now in development that will take astronauts to Mars and beyond.
You've got to be an American to be an American astronaut. Who knew? You can also have dual citizenship. Fear not if you don't have a US passport. Citizens of other nations can also work their way all the way up by applying to the space agencies of our international partners in Canada, Japan, Russia, Brazil or Europe. See you up there.
Contrary to popular belief, pilot experience is not required, but is highly desirable. If you're applying for a pilot position, however, then having at least 1,000 hours experience of flying jets is mandatory. Test-pilot experience is a huge turbo booster to your candidacy.
If you can pass the NASA flight physical, then you can become an astronaut candidate, regardless of age. Candidates have ranged in age from 26 to 46, with the current average being 34. In space, age is just a number as John Glenn clearly demonstrated. The first American to orbit Earth, Glenn later became the oldest man in space at 77.
In addition to physical and academic readiness, according to NASA you'll also need three years of "progressively responsible" related professional experience. Of course what counts as "related" and "progressively responsible" is up to your imagination or, at least, open to some interpretation. It could be advanced research, engineering, a doctorate degree or K-12 teaching experience.
When it comes to suiting up for NASA space travel, many are called, but few are called back. Of the 6,300 who applied in 2013, only eight became astronaut candidates. It's a super-elite crew, as NASA currently has only 43 active astronauts.
But things are looking up. There are "more human spacecraft in development in the United States today than at any other time in history," a NASA statement notes. "Future astronauts will launch once again from the Space Coast of Florida on American-made commercial spacecraft and carry out deep-space exploration missions that will advance a future human mission to Mars."