Since the selection of the first class of astronauts, many women and men have pursued and realized their dreams of flying in space. They all began by submitting their applications to become astronauts.

The astronauts of the 21st century will to work aboard the International Space Station in cooperation with international partners; help to build and fly a new NASA vehicle, the Orion MultiPurpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV ) designed for human deep space exploration; and further NASA’s efforts to partner with industry to provide a commercial capability for transportation to the space station.

NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson on ISS 2010

Based on materials provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

What does it take to become a NASA astronaut?

The term “astronaut” derives from the Greek words meaning “space sailor,” and refers to all who have been launched as crew members aboard NASA spacecraft bound for orbit and beyond.

Since the inception of NASA’s human space flight program, NASA have maintained the term “astronaut” as the title for those selected to join the corps of astronauts who make “space sailing” their career profession. (The term “cosmonaut” refers to those space sailors who are members of the Russian space program.)

The crew of each launched spacecraft is made up of astronauts or cosmonauts drawn from the various categories described below. The crew assignments and duties of commander, pilot, mission specialist, or payload specialist are drawn from the NASA professional career astronauts.

International Space Station Program description

The ISS is the largest international scientific and technological endeavor ever undertaken.

ISS International Space Station over earthThe ISS is a permanent laboratory in a realm where gravity, temperature, and pressure can be manipulated for a variety of scientific and engineering pursuits that are impossible in ground-based laboratories. The ISS is a test bed for the technologies for the future as we learn more about living and working in space.

Aboard the international laboratory, crews conduct medical research in space; develop new materials and processes to benefit industries on Earth; and accelerate breakthroughs in technology and engineering that will have immediate, practical applications for life on Earth.

(Article continues below ad)

The ISS is 356 feet across and 290 feet long, and weighs approximately 940,000 pounds. Six people can live on the ISS. The ISS is forging and maintaining new partnerships with the other space faring nations of the world; and satisfying humanity’s need to explore.

Astronaut responsibilities

Astronauts are involved in all aspects of assembly and on-orbit operations of the ISS. This includes extravehicular activities (EVA), robotics operations using the remote manipulator system, experiment operations, and onboard maintenance tasks.

Astronauts are required to have a detailed knowledge of the ISS systems, as well as detailed knowledge of the operational characteristics, mission requirements and objectives, and supporting systems and equipment for each experiment on their assigned missions.

>> How do astronauts go to the bathroom in a spacesuit?

Long-duration missions aboard the ISS generally last from 3 to 6 months. Training for long duration missions is very arduous and takes approximately 2 to 3 years. This training requires extensive travel, including long periods away in other countries training with our International partners. Travel to and from the ISS will be aboard the Russian Soyuz vehicle. Consequently, astronauts must meet the Soyuz size requirements, as indicated below.

Basic astronaut qualification requirements

Applicants must meet the following minimum requirements before submitting an application.

Astronaut candidate (Non-Piloting background)
NASA astronaut Nicole Stott in ISS Kibo laboratory

NASA astronaut Nicole Stott in ISS Kibo laboratory

  1. Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics. Quality of academic preparation is important.
  2. Degree must be followed by at least 3 years of related, progressively responsible, professional experience or at least 1,000 pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. An advanced degree is desirable and may be substituted for experience as follows: master’s degree = 1 year of experience, doctoral degree = 3 years of experience. Teaching experience, including experience at the K – 12 levels, is considered to be qualifying experience for the Astronaut Candidate position; therefore, educators are encouraged to apply.
  3. Ability to pass the NASA long-duration space flight physical, which includes the following specific requirements:
    • Distant and near visual acuity: Must be correctable to 20/20, each eye
    • Blood pressure not to exceed 140/90 measured in a sitting position
    • Standing height between 62 and 75 inches
Notes on academic requirements

Applicants for the Astronaut Candidate Program must meet the basic education requirements for NASA engineering and scientific positions – specifically: successful completion of standard professional curriculum in an accredited college or university leading to at least a bachelor’s degree with major study in an appropriate field of engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics.

The following degree fields, while related to engineering and the sciences, are not considered qualifying:

  • Degrees in Technology (Engineering Technology, Aviation Technology, Medical Technology, etc.)
  • Degrees in Psychology (except for Clinical Psychology, Physiological Psychology, or Experimental Psychology which are qualifying)
  • Degrees in Nursing
  • Degrees in Exercise Physiology or similar fields
  • Degrees in Social Sciences (Geography, Anthropology, Archaeology, etc.).
  • Degrees in Aviation, Aviation Management or similar fields
Citizenship requirements

Applicants for the NASA Astronaut Candidate Program must be citizens of the United States, though applicants with valid US dual-citizenship are also eligible.

There are also other governments and groups sending people to space — see NASA’s list of International Space Agencies here.

Also, see options for paid travel to space here: Is there any way to actually go to space?

Application procedures

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration accepts applications for the position of Astronaut Candidate on an as-needed basis.

  • Civilian: Applications can only be submitted through the Office of Personnel Management’s USAJOBS site.
  • Active Duty Military: Active duty military personnel must submit applications through the Office of Personnel Management’s USAJOBS website and to their respective military service. Contact your military service for additional application procedures.
Astronaut selection

Following the preliminary screening of applications, additional information may be requested from some applicants, and individuals listed in the application as supervisors and references may be contacted. Applicants who are being considered as finalists for interview may be required to obtain a flight physical.

>> 12 stunning views of the sun like you’ve never seen it before

A week-long process of personal interviews, medical screening, and orientation will be required for both civilian and military applicants under final consideration. Further interviews and a complete medical evaluation will be conducted prior to selection. Once final selections have been made, all applicants will be notified of the outcome of the process. Complete background investigations will be performed on those selected.

Samantha Cristoforetti and Scott Kelly reflecting on Dragon's arrival

Samantha Cristoforetti and Scott Kelly reflecting on Dragon’s arrival

Become an astronaut: General program requirements

Selected applicants will be designated Astronaut Candidates and will be assigned to the Astronaut Office at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas.

The astronaut candidates will undergo a training and evaluation period lasting approximately 2 years, during which time they will participate in the basic Astronaut Candidate training program, which is designated to develop the knowledge and skills required for formal mission training upon selection for a flight. Astronaut Candidates (with jet flight piloting backgrounds) will maintain proficiency in NASA aircraft during their candidate period.

As part of the Astronaut Candidate training program, Astronaut Candidates are required to complete military water survival before beginning their flying syllabus, and become SCUBA qualified to prepare them for the EVA training. Consequently, all Astronaut Candidates will be required to pass a swimming test during their first month of training. They must swim 3 lengths of a 25-M pool without stopping, and then swim 3 lengths of the pool in a flight suit and tennis shoes. There is no time limit. They must also tread water continuously for 10 minutes.

Astronaut Mike Hopkins on Dec. 24 2013 spacewalk

Astronaut Mike Hopkins on Dec. 24 2013 spacewalk

Candidates are also exposed to the problems associated with high (hyperbaric) and low (hypobaric) atmospheric pressures in the altitude chambers and learn to deal with emergencies associated with these conditions.

(Article continues below ad)

In addition, Astronaut Astronaut Selection and Training Candidates are given exposure to the microgravity of space flight during flights in a modified jet aircraft as it performs parabolic maneuvers that produce periods of weightlessness for about 20 seconds. The aircraft then returns to the original altitude, and the sequence is repeated up to 40 times in a day.

Astronaut program graduates and selection

Applicants should be aware that selection as an Astronaut Candidate does not ensure selection as an astronaut. Final selection as an astronaut will depend upon satisfactory completion of the training and evaluation period.

Graduation from the Astronaut Candidate Program will require successful completion of the following: International Space Station systems training, Extravehicular Activity skills training, Robotics skills training, Russian language training, and aircraft flight readiness training.

Civilian candidates who successfully complete the training and evaluation and are selected as astronauts will become permanent Federal employees. Civilian candidates who are not selected as astronauts may be placed in other positions within NASA, depending upon Agency requirements and labor constraints at that time. Successful military candidates will be detailed to NASA for a specified tour of duty.

NASA has an affirmative-action program goal of having qualified minorities and women among those selected as Astronaut Candidates. Therefore, qualified minorities and women are encouraged to apply.

For additional information about the Astronaut Candidate Program, please go to the Astronaut Selection site: astronauts.nasa.gov


Astronaut pay and benefits
  • Civilian: Salaries for civilian Astronaut Candidates are based on the Federal Government’s General Schedule pay scales for grades GS-11 through GS-14, and are set in accordance with each individual’s academic achievements and experience.
  • Military: Selected military personnel will be detailed to the Johnson Space Center but will remain in an active duty status for pay, benefits, leave, and other similar military matters.

See books created by our team in the Myria shop!


About The Author

The Myria Editors

Myria, originally launched in 1998, strives to deliver more conversation, and less gossip. More intelligence, less eye-rolling. More acceptance, less judgment. And throughout the site: more needle, less haystack. Through life's ups, downs, and everything in between, we want to encourage you, support you, and help guide you. The team behind Myria understands that status updates and selfies never tell the whole story, and that we all have stuff to deal with, and that's nothing you need to hide here. Beyond "been there, done that" - every day, we're still there and still doing it. That's how we know: You've got this.


About: All photos courtesy of NASA. Photo 1: NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Expedition 24 flight engineer, looks through a window in the Cupola of the International Space Station. A blue and white part of Earth and the blackness of space are visible through the windows. The image was a self-portrait using natural light. (11 Sept. 2010); Photo 2: ISS. Photo 3: NASA astronaut Nicole Stott, Expedition 20/21 flight engineer (2009), is pictured near the Mice Drawer System (MDS) in the Kibo laboratory of the International Space Station. Photo 4: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly (@StationCdrKelly) posted this image to social media following the grapple and berthing of the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft, writing, "Samantha Cristoforetti and I reflecting on Dragon's arrival. #YearInSpace." (Expedition 43 Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency, with the assistance of Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA, successfully captured the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft with the space station’s robotic arm on Friday, April 17 2015 at 6:55 a.m. EDT, while the station was traveling 257 statute miles over the Pacific Ocean just east of Japan.) Photo 5: Astronaut Mike Hopkins on December 24, 2013 spacewalk.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
Read previous post:
4 reasons you really should use up your vacation time

Americans leave about 429 million vacation days unused every year. Here's why you need take a real vacation - for...

Close