The word astronaut means "star sailor" in Latin.
Future astronaut candidates must make a commitment early in their academic
careers to gain the credentials necessary to apply to the astronaut program.
It is important that a high school student do their very best on standardized
tests such as the SAT and ACT so they are accepted to an
accredited university. The minimum degree requirement is a bachelor's
degree from an accredited college followed by at least three years of work
experience. Most astronauts, however, have continued on to gain advanced
Every two years, NASA must make the difficult decision of selecting new
members of the astronaut corps. From thousands of applications that are sent
in from all over the world, NASA selects approximately 100 people to go to
the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas for a week of interviews, medical
examinations, and orientation. The 100 astronaut candidates are interviewed
by the Astronaut Selection Board. The board is looking for people who have
experience and potential, people who are motivated and have the ability to
work as part of a team, and people who can communicate well. Applicants must
be adaptable and understand the tremendous workload that is involved in
becoming an astronaut. Many candidates withdraw their application after they
realize the time and danger involved in being an astronaut.
While in college, future applicants should concentrate their studies in the
technology, math, and science fields. An applicant should also make the effort
to gain additional experience by interning in a related field. If the
applicant's goal is to be a pilot/commander in the astronaut program, they must
have logged at least 1000 hours of flight time in command of a jet aircraft
before the selection board will consider them. The selection board sends a
list of the final candidates to the NASA Administrator. The Administrator
makes the decision of who will actually join the program. Every two years,
approximately twenty people are chosen to fill vacancies in the astronaut
corps. Astronauts are usually eligible for a flight assignment one year after
completion of basic training.
Training is held at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The novice
astronauts are trained in aircraft safety which includes ejection, parachute,
and survival instruction. Mission specialists and pilots are trained in a T-38
jet in order for them to gain experience in a high-performance aircraft. A
Gulfstream II aircraft, which has been modified to simulate the handling of a
Shuttle, is also used to train pilot astronauts. The astronauts are given
a range of basic science, math, and technology courses. The astronauts receive
training in a mock-up of the Space Shuttle. Each astronaut must also learn to
function in weightless environments, and possibly even learn to perform a space
walk. Advanced training follows the basic training program. The advanced
training program consists of sixteen different courses covering all
Shuttle-related crew training requirements. The advanced training continues
even after a crew has been given a flight assignment. Starting at about ten
weeks before a mission, the astronaut team starts to simulate the mission with
the Earth-bound flight control team who will assist them in their
Often the commander is also the pilot of the Shuttle. Commanders are
responsible for the vehicle, the crew, mission success, and safety.
The Shuttle pilot is second in command. The pilot's primary
responsibility is to control and operate the Shuttle. Pilots assist the
Shuttle commander as necessary. Shuttle pilots must be United States
Mission specialists are responsible for coordinating all on-board operations.
Mission specialists perform on-board experiments, space walks, and handle the
payload. Mission specialists must be United States citizens.
Payload specialists are professionals from the physical or life sciences
field, or they are highly skilled technicians who can operate the
Shuttle payload equipment. Payload specialists are chosen by the payload
sponsor or customer. Training for a payload specialist may begin as much
as two years ahead of the scheduled flight, depending on the task the specialist
If you dream of one day flying the Space Shuttle, what can you do
today to prepare yourself for application to the astronaut
The StarChild site is a service of the
High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive
Research Center (HEASARC),
Dr. Alan Smale (Director), within the
Astrophysics Science Division (ASD) at
StarChild Authors: The StarChild Team
StarChild Graphics & Music: Acknowledgments
StarChild Project Leader: Dr. Laura A.
Curator: J.D. Myers
Responsible NASA Official: Phil Newman
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