“Reach for the Stars” – said all the aunts, uncles, friends, and well-wishers crowded around your Moses basket when you were a squirming newborn. Perhaps, they just made silly faces and cooing noises – but this is what they were thinking. Well, why not take them at their word?
So, you want to become an Astronaut. We already told you how to become an Astronomer – but that didn’t quite float your boat did it? If telescopes, observatories, and even the most cutting-edge stargazing technology won’t quite scratch that itch to see the stars, then you should consider this career.
The first step towards getting your bootprint on the moon, is to sign up to your nearest astronaut courser, right?
It’s not that easy
The International School for Astronauts is right next to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. In other words, it is about as easy to become an astronaut as an X-Man. There are no specific universities dedicated to churning out astronaut graduates year after year. There is no Ivy League of Astronaut Colleges, with a moving walkway from the lab to the steps of a space shuttle.
If you want to become an astronaut, you need to dream big – and work hard. Space agencies are not looking for mediocre. NASA will not give you space to find your potential, or swap around different modules as you find your moonwalking groove. There is no freshers week for astronauts.
Training a single astronaut is astronomically expensive. Everything from the spacesuits, to the simulation space shuttles, is an enormous investment. You will need to be worth investing in. One sole space mission could take decades of research, planning, and attempts. Hundreds of people could be involved in one launch. Astronauts are the lead role in this production, and space is limited.
Take the right courses
Astronauts need both phenomenal skills, years of training, and also exceptional strength of mind. Some of the qualities you will need as an astronaut you simply cannot learn in the classroom. Determination, endurance, and an ability to find stillness within. These many not feature on the modules in any training courses, but they are indispensable psychological attributes to a successful astronaut career.
You can do anything you set your mind to, right?
To an extent, this is true. Let’s be brutally honest, however. A brilliant artist with the ability to turn a pot of paint into an abstract visual thought of pain meets the Spanish Civil War – may not make a brilliant astronaut. A world-class athlete who won six gold medals at the last Olympics could be better using their unique skills on terra firma.
Astronauts need to be highly trained in sciences or technical skills. This could include but not be limited to the fields of astrophysics, software engineering, or aviation technology. Flight engineers or test pilots would, on the other hand, find the transition to astronaut more gentle.
So far, we have discovered that astronauts need to be psychologically indestructible and intellectually sharp. They also need to be in excellent physique. Ever wondered what happens to the human body in space? An astronaut needs to train his mind and body. Obtaining the crucial green light onto any space mission would only come after an eagle-eyed analysis of your psychological and physiological state. Both need to be perfect.
Astronauts don’t spend all their time doing the moonwalk or munching MnMs in zero gravity. Most of your time is spent on Earth. If you do make the cut for a space mission, however, expect to spend a lot of time with a few people. What astronauts endure in their missions makes the lockdowns we have recently encountered look like a 4th of July party.
You will need to be a team player, adaptable and if you have claustrophobia, this is not the right job for you. Coping well in stressful conditions and thinking clearly on the spot are essential qualities to any astronaut.
You will miss a lot of birthdays.
Never had a Thanksgiving away from home? Would you feel guilty if you missed your child’s school play? Many astronauts have families and can be loving fathers, mothers, and wonderful friends. You cannot be generous with your time, however. Space missions can mean months away from your loved ones, and this is a bleak reality that is better to take on board sooner rather than later.
Let’s hope you’re photogenic!
Expectations are sky – nay, space high – for astronauts. They are required to be scientists, engineers, pilots, and athletes. Also, it helps to be comfortable in the spotlight. You may find yourself in it more than you’d expect!
Space is fascinating, right? That’s what brought you to this blog. That’s why you’re reading this very line. We all love stars, the great unknown, the uncharted wild west of the stars…who doesn’t? Astronauts get a lot of publicity. Most of it is great! You don’t tend to see astronauts falling out of limos onto red carpets, or chucking their Starbucks frappucinos at reporters. If they did, they probably wouldn’t be an employed astronaut much longer.
Astronauts spend a lot of time in the limelight. Talking to reporters, doing presentations at universities, answering Q&A sessions online. Communication skills and fluent English, Russian, Spanish, or Chinese are a must. A photographic smile wouldn’t go amiss either!
So, you’ve made it this far.
Do you think you have what it takes?
If you are still reading this and believe that you have the right qualities and you could handle the pressure of being an astronaut, then here’s an idea.
Here's what you'll need
You will need a bachelor's degree in engineering,physical science, computer science, biological science, or mathematics. Before you can become a professional astronaut you will then need at least three years of experience (or 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft).
Apply to the European Astronaut Corps
*You have to be from a country that is an ESA Member State
The ESA (European Space Agency) collaborates with other agencies to send its astronauts on collaborative missions to space. Currently, the ESA is made up of 20 countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
Check your height
Sorry - we should have maybe mentioned this sooner, right? It may not be a deal breaker, but certain recruitment agencies (including NASA) have strict minimum height requirements for their astronauts. The European Space Agency will take on new recruits who are between 153 and 190 centimeters (i.e. 5' to 6'2 1/2"). NASA like 'em taller: between 5'2" and 6'3" (157 to 190.5 cm).
Let's hope those are fashion glasses...
Yup, we like our astronuats to have as sharp vision as our pilots. The need for 20/20 vision may be a disappointing deal breaker if you already wear glasses. The good news is, laser surgery is an option!
NASA requires its astronauts to have 20/20 vision in each eye. Also, your blood pressure must not be above 140/90.
Can you swim?
Yes, you are still reading the "How to become an Astronaut" post. Strangely enough, much of the physcial trainig to prepare you for zero gravity conditions is done under water! NASA trains its fleet with military water tactics. You will need to swimm 75 meters. Easy, right? Now, imagine doing that in a flight suit! Also, NASA astronauts need to be SCUBA-qualified.
Joining the army, navy or airforce in your countyr will also give you complementary qualifications, training and potentially be a recruitment avenue to your career as an astronaut.
Good luck, reach for the stars!