If you’ve ever fantasized about soaring across the sky and peering down on Earth from above, you’ve probably considered becoming an astronaut. This isn’t a professional path that comes easily, and it’s not the kind of position where you can spend most of your time with your kids in the evenings and on weekends. Start applying right away if you satisfy the educational criteria, but be prepared to be rejected.
NASA astronauts are now involved in all areas of the International Space Station’s activities, including robotics, space walks, experimental operations, and maintenance. An astronaut may be sent to a long-duration mission that will keep her away from home for three to six months; however, training is tough, involves extensive travel, and takes two to three years before the mission starts. Although there are no age limits for becoming an astronaut, NASA reports that the average age is 34.
A bachelor’s degree in physical science, engineering, computer science, mathematics, or biological science, as well as three years of post-degree relevant experience or 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time on a jet aircraft, is required to be considered for a job as a US astronaut.
A prospective astronaut must also pass NASA’s astronaut physical, which requires 20/20 vision in both the far and close fields in each eye, but glasses can help. You may also undergo laser surgery to fix your eyesight.
You must go through a week-long process of personal interviews, medical screening, and orientation after you have passed the initial round of selection. After being selected, you must go through a two-year training and assessment process.
About the Industry
Astronauts work for NASA, which is the federal government’s space agency. Candidates come from two backgrounds: civilian (which is the most frequent) and military (which is the least common). While civilians apply directly to NASA, active duty military applicants apply via their respective branch to the Astronaut Candidate Program. Eligible submissions are submitted to NASA for further consideration after a preliminary assessment.
Years of Professional Experience
Astronauts are paid according to the federal government’s general schedule pay scale, which ranges from GS11 to GS15, with the following pay grades:
- GS11: $53,060–$68,983
- GS12: $63,600–$82,680
- GS13: $75,628–$98,317
- GS14: $89,370–$116,181
- GS-15: $105,123–$136,659
Each grade includes ten steps, with each step increasing a person’s pay. Work experience and academic accomplishments determine the grade and step level at which a person is paid.
Job Growth Trend
The astronaut program at NASA will remain a very competitive career path. In 2016, a record-breaking 18,300 applications were received, with only 120 applicants being invited to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for interviews. Only half of them were invited back for a second interview. A total of eight to fourteen people were named as astronaut candidates.