If you've ever wanted to be an astronaut, now might be your chance – provided you can satisfy a few pesky job requirements, that is.
For three months only, from December through February, NASA will accept applications for aspiring space voyagers to join the current 47-man astronaut team.
The space agency says the call, the first since 2011, is necessitated by the impending return of current astronauts to American soil and the prospect of a possible journey to Mars. The space agency promises, in a press release, that chosen astronauts will have the opportunity to be a part of an “unprecedented transition to commercial spacecraft for crew and cargo transport to the space station.”
“This next group of American space explorers will inspire the Mars generation to reach for new heights, and help us realize the goal of putting boot prints on the Red Planet,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in the agency statement. “Those selected for this service will fly on U.S. made spacecraft from American soil, advance critical science and research aboard the International Space Station, and help push the boundaries of technology in the proving ground of deep space.”
Qualified applicants are those with at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics. So sorry, liberal arts majors, you won’t be making the cut. Additionally, those with advanced degrees are generally considered above those without.
Beyond academics, candidates should have at least three years of "related, progressively responsible, professional experience" or at least 1,000 hours of "pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft,” which Space.com suggests is meant to encourage military candidates.
And the physical requirements are of course quite rigorous, as astronauts, or “space sailors” as the word means in Greek, are put through heavy strains during missions due to long-term lack of gravity that can cause medical issues for those physically unprepared.
But there is also a requirement no amount of training can solve. Qualifying commander and pilot candidates must be between 62 and 75 inches tall. (This means NASA employment is not an option for famed Game of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage or retired basketball star Yao Ming, but they are probably too busy to apply anyway.)
If you meet all these requirements, you’ll be subjected to about two years of training including military survival water training, scuba diving qualification, high and low atmospheric pressure testing, Russian language training, and “vomit comet” test flights aboard a modified jetliner that simulates the feeling of weightlessness, before being officially considered a full-time astronaut. (Interestingly enough, NASA uses the term ‘astronaut’ to refer to US citizens and ‘cosmonaut’ to refer to members of the Russian space program. The European, Canadian, and Japanese space agencies all use the Greek derivative as well.)
Don’t let any of this deter you though. Former Ohio astronaut Don Thomas encourages young, aspiring astronauts to “not ever give up on their dream if it is something that they really want to do in life.” He says most candidates are selected in their early to mid 30’s and that while “rejection and failure is likely...persistence can pay off in the end.”
Astronauts agree that they are willing to accept the risks that come with space travel because they “believe in the mission of space exploration and think the risk is well worth the benefit.”