Many of us dream of going to space, and for many of us it is just that- a dream. No matter how passionate we may be about the stars, planets, and space in general, the requirements to make it through the selection and training phases is just too tough for the vast majority of candidates to complete successfully.
Only about 200 people have had the privilege of serving on the International Space Station after completing a gruelling training program, so if you have ever wondered what it takes to make it into space, read the following shortened version of what is required- and then weep for the lucky ones.
You have to want to go to space.
The 8-month-long journey to space begins by wanting to go, but how badly you want to go may be somewhat difficult to demonstrate, since there are thousands of other applicants that may want it more. However, the fact that you submitted an application puts you on a level playing field, if nothing else.
You need to have the correct height.
The whole training program is rather pointless if you are too tall or too short at the time of application. NASA’s rules state that to qualify for the training program, you need to be between 157.5 cms (62 in.), and 190.5 cms (75 in.) tall to fit into their suits and equipment.
You need perfect vision.
While perfect vision is not a requirement during the early stages of selection and training, it is however required that your vision should be “correctable” with surgery, or other means.
You will be disqualified from further training if you cannot achieve 20/20 vision in each eye after corrective measures had been taken.
You have to study, and then study some more.
Regardless of you proven passion for space, the minimum academic qualification for selection is a bachelor’s degree in engineering, or mathematics, or biology, or physics, which means that your journey into space starts at school. Bad grades will not get you into university, and therefore not into NASA’s astronaut training program.
Now Study some more, and then learn to fly a fighter plane.
Remember that obtaining a bachelor’s degree is only the beginning- NASA recommends going on to a master’s degree, after which you need to join the air force to learn to fly a fighter jet. However, you need a minimum of 1000 hours as a jet pilot-in-command (which takes around three years to achieve), before you can become a serious candidate for selection to embark on the challenge- if you pass the week-long interview that follows your 1000 hours of flying time.
Also be very fit, and very healthy.
This is the stage in the selection process where most applicants drop out, so if you thought you were fit, strong, and healthy, you will be expected to prove it by doing the following:
- Complete a military diving training program that includes survival training. The minimum qualification for space walks is a military grade SCUBA certification.
- Complete three laps of a 25-metre pool without stopping even once.
- Then complete three more laps in the same pool while wearing a full flight suit and tennis shoes. This exercise however, has no time limit.
Next, you must be able to tread water for a full ten minutes while wearing a full flight suit, without stopping.
- Next comes the fun part- you will be exposed to conditions of microgravity that result in weightlessness forty times in a single day, each session lasting 20 seconds.
- All of this must be accomplished with your blood pressure not exceeding 140/90 while you are sitting down
Now you need to study even more.
Assuming that you have graduated from the earlier steps, you will now be required to do some real studying, which is why you needed the bachelor’s degree. From now on you will be expected to complete, and pass, an intensive training course in one of the following subjects:
International Space Station control systems.
- Extravehicular Activity, or spacewalk skills, which is why you needed the SCUBA certification.
- Robotic control skills, which is why you needed maths and engineering.
- The Russian language, because you will be sharing accommodations with Russian crew members aboard the ISS.
- Aircraft Flight Readiness, which is why it is recommended that you learn to fly a fighter plane.
Now, demonstrate your newly acquired skills.
At this point, you are a little closer to your goal, but there is a long way to go yet. You will be placed in a full-sized mock-up of the real ISS, where you will be expected to:
Demonstrate your knowledge of all control systems.
Demonstrate your skill at controlling various aspects of the ISS’s operation. See more here. Learn how to use the cooking facilities, how to safely deal with garbage and trash, and how to conduct the experiments that will be assigned to you.
Is it worth it?
That depends on how badly you want to go to space, but if you want it badly enough, the pay, risks, and long absence from home should not be an issue. However, do not expect to be paid an extravagant salary and bonus upon return. The following is an extract from an official NASA document that outlines the expected reward for spending six months or more in space.
“…salaries for civilian Astronaut Candidates are based on the Federal Government’s General Schedule pay scales for grades GS11 through GS14, and are set in accordance with each individual’s academic achievements and work experience. Selected military personnel will be detailed to JSC, but will remain in an active duty status for pay, benefits, leave, and other similar military matters.”
Where to sign up…
Unless you are an aspiring, and very wealthy individual that is prepared to undergo a similar training program in Russia, the only other way to make into space is to apply to NASA , who accepts several thousand applications at a time in order to end up with only a dozen or so qualified astronauts after an eight-month training course.
The competition for a place on these courses is murderous, but NASA accepts applications from all over the world, so if you are interested in joining the program, use this link for more information on the application process. Read more in the NASA PDF