How To Become An Astronaut

 

 

Astronaut Selection and Training

[Astronauts in space suits under water] Astronauts practice for working in space in NASA's Weightless Environment Training Facility (WETF), a large water tank that contains a mockup of the space shuttle orbiter payload bay and various payloads. The astronauts are assisted here by SCUBA equipped divers.

The 21st century promises the challenge for humans to live and work in space. The achievments of scientists, engineers, technicians, and specialists who will build and operate the Space Station are the legacy of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) many years of experience in selecting and training astronauts to work on the frontier of space.

 

 

 

History of Astronaut Selection

Man's scope of space exploration has broadened since the first U.S. manned space flight in 1961. But the Nation can never forget the original seven space pilots who focused our vision on the stars. In 1959, NASA asked the U.S. military services to list their members who met specific qualifications. In seeking its first astronauts, NASA required jet aircraft flight experience and engineering training. Height could be no more than 5 feet 11 inches because of limited cabin space available in the Mercury space capsule being designed. After many series of intense physical and psychological screenings, NASA selected seven men from an original field of 500 candidates. They were Air Force Captains L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., Virgil "Gus" Grissom, and Donald K. "Deke" Slayton; Marine Lieutenant Colonel John H. Glenn, Jr., Navy Lieutenant M. Scott Carpenter and Navy Lieutenant Commanders Walter M. Schirra, Jr., and Alan B. Shepard, Jr.

Each man flew in Project Mercury except Slayton, who was grounded for medical reasons. Sixteen years later, Slayton was an American crewmember of the ApolloSoyuz Test Project, the world's first international manned space flight.

Nine pilot astronauts were chosen in September 1962, and fourteen more were selected in October 1963. By then, prime emphasis had shifted away from flight experience and toward superior academic qualifications. In October 1964, applications were invited on the basis of educational background alone. These were the scientist astronauts, so called because the 400-plus applicants who met minimum requirements had a doctorate or equivalent experience in the natural sciences, medicine, or engineering. Of these 400 applicants, six were selected in June 1965.

In April 1966,19 pilot astronauts were named and in August 1967,11 scientist astronauts were added to the program. When the Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory program was cancelled in mid-1969, seven astronaut trainees transferred to NASA.

 

 

Shuttle Era Astronaut Candidate Recruiting

 

 

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The first group of astronaut candidates for the Space Shuttle Program was selected in January 1 978. In July of that year, the 35 candidates began a rigorous training and evaluation period at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC), Houston, Texas, to qualify for subsequent assignment for future Space Shuttle flight crews. This group of 20 mission specialists and 15 pilots completed training and went from astronaut candidate status to astronaut (active status) in August 1979. Six of the 35 were women and four were minorities.

Six groups of pilots and mission specialists have been added since then: 19 in 1980,17 in 1984,13 in 1985,15 in 1987, 23 in 1990, and 19 in 1992.

 

 

The Odds

NASA chooses its astronauts from an increasingly diverse pool of applicants that, 'looks like America". From thousands of applications from all over the world, approximately 100 men and women are chosen for an intensive astronaut candidate training program every two years. "I cannot imagine a better career. I've done more than I could ever have imagined. I'm thankful that I've been at the right place at the right time," said Kenneth S. Reightler.

The study time involved is no more lengthy than that of any other professional career requiring graduate/post-graduate study. If becoming an astronaut is a dream, held long and steadfast, than this labor will be one of love.

 

 

Early Preparation

 

astronaut4The preparation begins in elementary school. It is here that the foundations are laid down and then built upon," said Colonel Charlie Bolden, Deputy Commandant of Midshipmen at the US Naval Academy. "Start with the basics and get them down first...you can't do anything without math and science." Students should read everything they can get their hands on about astronauts, Space in general, and their field of interest in particular.

Other skills Bolden felt were integral to becoming an astronaut were: knowing how and being able to work as a team player; understanding and appreciating both your ethnic, cultural and American history; and maintaining a grasp on current events.

Bolden does not hold the opinion that American young people are less equipped than their foreign counterparts. "I listen to people say that American Students can't do this and can't do that. I don't buy into or accept that at all. Kids are just as sharp as when I came up. It's just motivation that may be lacking," Bolden said.

It is also interesting to note that out of 195 former and present astronauts, 123 have taken part in Scouting--or 64 percent. Because of the direct mission that scouting fulfills it would help to develop those skills.

 

 

 

College

In high school, it is particularly important for the student to earn the best possible grades for standardized test scores (SAT and/or ACT). It is then time to make some decisions as to the specific direction of study, such as, engineering, biological or physical science, or mathematics.

What next after students graduate from high school? "If you do things thinking that, 'This will look good on a resume' or I'm not going to like it but it'll help me get selected someday,' you will do yourself a disservice. You're not going to do as well as you would at something in which you're interested," said Reightler.

The "minimum degree requirement" for an astronaut is a bachelor's from an accredited institution. Three years of related increasingly responsible professional experience must follow that degree.

Click Here!Most astronauts to date, however, continued with career and/or education to the post-graduate levels and were able to substitute education for all or part of their work experience requirement. Admittedly though, being selected could be a couple years off at the very least. In the mean time you'll need to eat and pay the rent. Besides, more experience can only bode well for the applicant in the long-term.

NASA contributes funds to 51 colleges and universities through its Space Grant Consortia. By attending these institutions you are ensured that the curriculum for Space programs offered will conform with guidelines NASA finds acceptable. To receive a list of the consortia schools write to: NASA Education Division, Code FEO2, 300 E Street S.W., Washington, D.C. 20546.

Many schools offer degrees in technical fields, math, and science. Check with a guidance/college counselor or a good college directory.

Whatever school you do attend--one aspect remains the same--do the very best that you possibly can. You will need the grades to graduate into a good Master of Science program. Obviously you will need to center your curriculum around science and the technologies. There are many degree options.

To communicate--both written and verbally is also vital to working in the Space program. To know history is important to success--not only as an astronaut but as a citizen. Bolden (who had to wake up extra early to attend a class in basic Russian language to prepare for his mission with a cosmonaut in February) suggests that every American should be--at the very least--bilingual.

"Space is a multinational and multicultural-cultural operation. Working with Russian cosmonauts is very difficult if astronauts don't know anything about Russian culture and their history as a people", said Bolden.

 

 

 

 

Internships/Co-ops

During university study, as soon as students arrive on campus they should go to the co-operative and recruitment offices to explore the possibilities of an internship or work/study position to gain vital experience necessary to be marketable. Students who did not explore career possibilities until their senior year could miss this opportunity.

"There isn't one particular type of work experience that NASA is looking for. NASA--like any other employer--wants to know how well a person has done. If you come from a research background, they'd look at published work in technical journals, lecturing or TA experience, and also any awards that you may have won," said Dr. Ellen Ochoa Mission Specialist, and the first Hispanic woman in Space. "Everyone should have summer jobs. You need some sort of experience."

This will also help you to understand what the particular companies are looking for in terms of hiring policies and experience levels. These students are often offered jobs either when their internship is completed or upon graduation.

 

 

 

Photos credits: NASA

 

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First Man On The Moon!

 

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