How To Become an Astronaut

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: September 14, 2021  •  8 min read  •  Science
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Have you been dreaming about becoming an astronaut since you were very young? Learning how to become an astronaut is an important first step. However, it’s not the easiest process, and it won’t be for everybody.

Those interested in traveling to space or working for NASA will need to complete the proper steps. But, first, let’s look at the process of how to become an astronaut.

How To Become an Astronaut

Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming an Astronaut

Step #1 – Complete High School

The journey to space for those wanting to become an astronaut starts with high school. You need to complete high school and keep your GPA up. In addition, you will need to do well on the SAT and/or ACT. A good SAT or ACT prep course can ensure you score very high.

During high school, make sure to take as many AP courses as you can. Focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) courses and, if possible, start taking college courses in high school.

Step #2 – Meet the Physical Requirements

You will also have to fit specific physical requirements to become an astronaut. If you don’t fit these requirements, you might be able to do something about it, depending on the requirement.

These are the physical requirements to become an astronaut:

If you don’t meet the height requirement, you’ll likely be out of luck. The other two requirements can be worked on.

Step #3 – Get Your Bachelor’s Degree

The next step in the journey to becoming an astronaut is getting your bachelor’s degree. You want to study one of the STEM fields, such as computer science, biology, engineering, physical science, or mathematics. Make sure you do very well in all your classes. Keep your GPA up and pass your graduate school exams with high scores.

Using the right test prep course for your graduate school exams is helpful. If you have a high GPA and good scores on your exams, you may become accepted to a better graduate school program.

Step #4 – Get Your Master’s Degree

You cannot become an astronaut without a master’s degree. This degree should also be in one of the STEM fields. Make sure you do the best you can, as NASA will look at how well you do in school to determine if you’re a good fit to become an astronaut.

While NASA doesn’t require a doctorate, it’s preferred. Usually, NASA looks for candidates with at least two years of study in a doctoral degree program. Therefore, a medical doctoral degree is very helpful. They also look for those completing a test pilot school program.

Step #5 – Be in Extremely Good Shape

If you want to become an astronaut, you will need to pass many different physical tests. It starts with the NASA long-duration flight astronaut physical. If you pass this test and you’re accepted into basic training, it will take incredible physical abilities to get through the training.

Those in high school aspiring to be astronauts one day should work on their physical abilities now. Get in great shape and stay very healthy if this is the career path you want to follow.

Step #6 – Get Accepted into Basic Training

Less than 1% of those applying to become an astronaut with NASA will be accepted. If you’re accepted, you will need to complete two years of basic training.

This training will include both classroom studying and physical training. You will also need to study Russian so you can communicate with the Russian Mission Control Center. During training, you will learn both spaceships and the science behind the space station.

As an astronaut-in-training, you will need to pass physical tests. This includes earning a scuba certification. You will also need to swim three laps in a pool with your flight suit on.

In training, they also undergo military water and land survival training. You will also need to practice simulations and get used to low and high atmospheric pressures.

Step #7 – Get Selected for a Flight

While you will technically be an astronaut before you’re ever selected for a flight, this is the part where you actually go to space. It can take years to become assigned to a flight. Most astronauts serve in Mission Control, do simulated spacewalks, and gain more skills while selecting.

Once you’re selected, you will start mission training. This takes a few more years. You will do coursework and simulations to prepare for your flight. Training may take place all across the globe. You will also train with your crewmates.

Once you take off on your spaceflight, you will be gone, on average, for six months. Some flights are one year long, however.

If you want to become an astronaut, this is the process you will need to undergo. It’s a grueling process and includes lots of coursework and physical training.

Additional Career Options for Aspiring Astronauts

Maybe you don’t meet the physical requirements. It’s also possible you’re waiting to be accepted as an astronaut. No matter the case, there are several other potential space careers you can enjoy, including:

Along with these three careers, you can also become a researcher or a professor of space physics.

Common Skills of Astronauts

If you want to become an astronaut, you need to possess certain skills, including:

Not just anybody can become an astronaut. Most train for many years before they ever have any chance of becoming an astronaut. Therefore, you will likely work in another position related to space and apply multiple times to have a better chance of being accepted.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming an Astronaut

How much does an astronaut earn?

Like with most careers, an astronaut’s salary depends on your level of experience and education. These are highly sought-after positions and only available to some. If you become a civilian astronaut, your average salary at the GS-11 level will be about $66K per year. If you work your way up to the GS-14 level, you can earn an average salary of about $144K per year.

Military astronauts get paid based on their active-duty status and rank. Therefore, you will likely need to be a commissioned officer with five years of active-duty experience to become a military astronaut.

How long will it take me to become an astronaut?

This is very hard to predict as becoming an astronaut isn’t guaranteed for anybody. Even if you meet all the requirements and finish all the necessary education, you may never become an astronaut.

NASA is incredibly selective. They only take on new astronauts every four years. In 2013, about 6,000 people applied, and only eight were hired. It was even worse in 2017, with 18,300 people applying and only 12 becoming accepted by NASA.

You will spend at least six years getting the right education (not including high school) to become an astronaut. It’s also necessary to have at least two years of professional experience. Another two years, if you’re accepted, is necessary for basic training.

If you’re accepted right away, you can become an astronaut in as little as eight years. But, more likely, it will take decades or will not happen at all.

Which colleges are best for astronauts?

If you want to go down this career path, choosing the right college makes a difference. Some universities have produced more astronauts than others. The top colleges and universities for astronauts include:

The military academies have, by far, produced the most astronauts.

What are some of the basic qualifications to become an astronaut?

You must be a U.S. citizen and complete a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field. It’s also necessary to gain 1,000 hours of flight time piloting a jet craft. With three or more years of professional experience and the ability to pass the NASA astronaut physical, you may qualify to apply to become an astronaut.

What are the different types of astronauts?

If you get selected to become an astronaut, you might fill one of many roles. The two most common types of astronauts are Pilot Astronauts and Mission Specialist Astronauts.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.