The selection process for becoming an astronaut is long and requires extraordinary dedication to the training process, but this is no ordinary job. It's the chance of a lifetime. People who love science, adventure, and technology (in any order) appear to be natural candidates for the job of astronaut. Before you rush to join this elite group of pioneers, you should know the requirements and the different phases of the selection process.
In the first selection of astronauts, NASA determined to select 6 astronauts and asked the military to provide names of persons who met their specific qualifications. The candidates were screened in strict medical, intense physical, and extensive psychological testing. Eighteen candidates passed all tests but only 7 original candidates were selected after more intense screening, one more than planned.
Women were not allowed, at that time, to pilot military aircraft and therefore were not in the running for astronaut selection, yet one woman met all other qualifications. Today, the backgrounds of astronauts include teachers, doctors, scientists and engineers.
NASA required both jet aircraft and engineering experience for the original astronauts.
Keep in mind that the first manned space program, Project Mercury was a one-man spacecraft and it was a necessary requirement for pilot to control and maneuver the spacecraft. Engineering experience was valuable in astronaut training and in emergency situations where a system failure could mean death or a severely damaged spacecraft.
Today, there are three types of astronauts.
1. Commander/pilot: The commander has responsibility for the mission, crew, and spacecraft. The pilot assists the commander.
2. Mission specialist: This astronaut works with the commander and pilots, conducts experiments and takes walks in space. (tethered to the vehicle of course)
3. Payload specialist: Performs special duties as required.
To view the specific requirements for each of these positions, go to basic qualifications.
Long process of Astronaut selection:
Phase I: This is the easiest part of the process. To start the selection process, appropriate forms must be filled out and submitted to NASA. If NASA officials like what they see on your application, you'll be called for interviews, medical tests, and orientation. Afterward, NASA will screen and evaluate your interview performance and you might be selected as an Astronaut candidate.
Phase II: If you made it to Phase II, you're an astronaut candidate and you're looking at two years of training and evaluation at NASA Johnson Space Center. Candidates take classes in math, sciences, oceanography, physics, and in technology. Technology classes teach orbital mechanics, survival techniques, and microgravity to name a few. You'll be tested for skills needed in your journey to become an astronaut.
Phase III: You're selected to become an astronaut and will undergo more training. After two years of training, you may or may not be selected to become an astronaut. If you are selected you'll train on the individual systems in the space shuttle.
What's in the future for astronauts?
In 2004, US President Bush released his vision for 21st space exploration stating: "At the beginning of the 21st century, we stand at a unique time in our exploration of the heavens." His vision for future space exploration was to send our astronauts to explore Mars. To accomplish this task, NASA would need to meet new technological challenges.
The US elected a new president as of January 20, 2009 and as the presidential task force has been a guiding hand in space travel goals, NASA and the presidential task force may set new goals with a vision that extends beyond what we now perceive.
Indeed, new challenges may require astronauts to live and work for long periods of time in space in the coming years with advancements in the space age and astronauts will continue to be selected for the challenges. Astronaut selection is a long and arduous selection process and only the stout hearted need apply, but the rewards are great and we have new horizons to conquer.