NASA's June 17 announcement that it had selected eight new astronaut-trainees has some people asking: What does it take to become an astronaut?
The short answer, according to Dr. Janet Kavandi, a former astronaut who now directs flight crew operations at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, is that the agency is looking for accomplished men and women with "small egos" who "love to do hard things."
Of course, just because you're modest and enjoy a challenge doesn't mean you have the right stuff. To be considered for astronaut training, you must meet strict physical, educational, and psychological criteria. Here are answers to eight questions about just what it takes, as explained by the "Astronauts Landing Page" of NASA's website:
Do I have to be a U.S. citizen?
Yes, you must be a U.S. citizen. Dual citizenship is okay. If you're a citizen of Russia, Canada, Japan, Brazil or another nation with its own space agency, you can apply through one of them. Here's a list of national space agencies.
Are there any age restrictions?
No. Astronauts in the past have ranged in age from 26 to 46. The average age is 34.
Is it best to attend a particular college or university?
NASA doesn't recommend any particular college or university, as long as it's accredited.
Is there a specific field of study I should choose?
You should have a bachelor's degree in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics.
Do I have to know how to fly?
Not necessarily. Applicants must have either a minimum of 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft or three years of professional experience in a field related to their academic background (for example, three years as an engineer after completing a degree in engineering).
What sorts of physical requirements are there?
You must pass a rigorous flight physical. Among other things, your blood pressure cannot exceed 140/90 and your height must be between 62 and 75 inches. Your eyesight must be correctible to 20/20 in each eye. Vision-correcting surgery is permissible, as long as it's been at least one year from the procedure and you have no permanent adverse after-effects.
What is the annual salary for astronauts?
Astronauts are paid on a government scale (GS-11 through GS-14) based on experience and academic achievements. Currently, a GS-11 worker starts at $64,724. A GS-14 worker can earn up to $141,715 a year.
How much competition is there? A lot. Those eight astronaut-trainees were selected from more than 6,100 applicants. And that wasn't the biggest applicant pool in the agency's history.