Have you ever wondered how to become an astronaut?
Painful as it is for eternal optimists such as ourselves to admit, the ratio of folks who dream of becoming an astronaut compared to the number who will actually achieve this is very very small. Don’t be sad though, as is the case with winning the lottery, it has to happen to someone and that someone might as well be you! (It’s unlikely, but it might!)
What is an astronaut?
Basically, an astronaut is a person who has been trained to travel in a spacecraft and is responsible for either flying the aircraft or being a member of the crew. ‘Surely anyone could do that?’ you might think, but of course you’d be very very wrong.
We will come to the skills, qualities and experiences that you will need to have in a little while, but in the meantime, take a look at some of the tasks and responsibilities that you could be expected to undertake on a day to day basis.
Work activities and responsibilities
Generally speaking, the work of an astronaut can be divided into 2 distinct categories A) The work that they do to ensure the proper repair and maintenance of the aircraft, and B) The work that they do to further progress scientific research and experimentation, which normally forms the key purpose of space missions.
Taken together, some of the main duties which might arise from these work categories are;
- Creating, setting up, carrying out, and monitoring experiments in accordance with the purpose of the mission.
- Collecting data from these experiments and ensuring that the findings are relayed back to earth accurately via satellite.
- Any number of general upkeep and maintenance duties that are necessary to the safety and comfort of the crew including; monitoring and maintenance air filtration systems, maintaining water purification systems, disposal of waste, replacing faulty or broken equipment, and general housekeeping duties.
- As an astronaut you may also have the opportunity to complete ‘spacewalks’ or as they are known in the business ‘Extra Vehicular Activities’, to compete maintenance of the spacecraft.
As you can imagine though, the duties of an astronaut are much more complex and varied that this summary would suggest. So if you fancy learning a bit more about what an anastronaut does whilst in space, pop yourself over to the European Space Agency website
When not taking part in a specific mission there are a whole range of other activities that you will be expected to engage in. These could include research, training and the promotion of space travel.
Being an astronaut requires the highest level of flexibility imaginable. You must be someone who is willing and able to leave home for extended periods of time, with little or no contact with your family and friends. You must also be a person who is able to function in a strictly regimented working environment, where every minute of your day is accounted for, from beginning to end.
Working aboard a spacecraft or on the International Space Station is an experience quite unlike any other in existence. You must be comfortable working with others in a very confined area, over a long stretch of time, which is usually around 6 months. You must be willing and able to accept the sacrifices which come with working in space including the ill effects it may have on your body / health and unusual arrangements concerning eating,drinking and other natural bodily functions.
As is the case with most jobs, the salary that you can expect to receive is very much dependent on the level of experience and seniority that your hold within the programme.
There is no internationally agreed upon pay scale for those working as an astronaut, however, generally speaking as a new recruit you could expect to receive more than £40,000 per annum, as you increase you experience and undertake your first mission this could rise to around £60,000 per year and with major experience you should expect to received at least £70,000.
Of course, these figures are intended as a guide only, so be sure to take a look at the most up to date information!
As you would expect there is a highly specific set of skills and personal attributes required to be accepted onto a programme and ultimately become a successful astronaut.
Some of the key things that you will need to possess and demonstrate include
- An outstanding level of skills in flight and / or science
- The highest level of physical fitness and general health
- The mental stamina to undertake the rigours of working within the very difficult conditions onboard a spacecraft or the international space station.
- The ability to work as an extremely effective member of a team
- A willingness to work in a highly pressurized and regimented environment
- Flexibility and versatility to take on the wide variety of things which will be required of you whilst taking part in a mission.
- The ability to get on well with others over long periods of time.
Qualification / entry requirements
It will come as no surprise that all space agencies maintain the highest standards when it comes to the calibre of person that they admit into their training programmes. What is expected of applicants will vary slightly depending on the agency that you wish to train with, but generally speaking as a minimum, those applying through the European space agency will need to hold at least a PHD in a relevant subject, which could include maths, biology, physics, chemistry or IT.
If you possess a PHD in one of these subjects and fulfil the other basic criteria requested (physically fit etc) you will then be admitted into the selection process which includes a broad range of steps include psychological tests, physical fitness tests, medical test, aptitude tests and interviews.
For more information about what to expect from the astronaut recruitment process take a look at the European Space Agency website.
Best of luck with with your journey to becoming an astronaut and if you make it don’t forget to wave!
If though, you reckon the odds are stacked too heavily against you, then you might like to take a look our career directory, which has loads of other careers which are just as thrilling.