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So You Want to Be an Astronaut? NASA Is Hiring

For the first time in four years, eligible candidates will have a shot at joining missions headed for the moon, Mars or the International Space Station

NASA's newest class of astronaut candidates at their graduation ceremony at Johnson Space Center.during their graduation ceremony at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in January of 2020. The class includes 11 NASA candidates, as well as two Canadian Space Agency (CSA) candidates. (NASA)
smithsonianmag.com

If your aspirations have always felt a little too lofty for this warm, watery world, you might be in luck: For the first time in more than four years, NASA is accepting applications to its astronaut training program, giving eager Earthlings the chance to explore the moon, Mars and more.

These extraterrestrial opportunities are huge—but for now, it would be wise to stay prudent and keep your expectations down to Earth. The agency’s last round of selection, which began in late 2015, picked just 12 individuals out of a pool of 18,300, reports Elizabeth Howell for Space.com. After one person resigned during training, the final 11 recruits left in the cohort—nicknamed “The Turtles”—completed training earlier this year.

“Becoming an astronaut is no easy task, because being an astronaut is no easy task,” Steve Koerner, NASA’s director of flight operations and chair of the Astronaut Selection Board at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, says in a statement. “Those who apply will likely be competing against thousands… But somewhere among those applicants are our next astronauts.”

Given the nature of the job, NASA has set strict requirements for eligibility. According to the agency’s website, aspiring astronauts should be United States citizens who hold a master’s degree in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) field, or have completed an equivalent amount of coursework and training. They must also have at least two years of “related, progressively responsible professional experience” under their belts, or have logged a minimum of 1,000 hours command-piloting a jet aircraft.

Additionally, applicants will need to pass a two-hour online assessment, as well as NASA’s long-duration spaceflight physical. The physical checks for things like good vision, a physique compatible with a spacesuit, and the physical competence to withstand spaceflight and perform spacewalks, which are comparable to scuba diving.

The hurdles also don’t stop at final selection, which NASA hopes to complete sometime in mid-2021. Even after being chosen, finalists still aren’t guaranteed to jet off into space. Rather, they’ll remain “candidates” who must undergo an additional two years in basic training and evaluation, after which they’ll have a shot at being designated as full-fledged astronauts.

All told, the first missions this crop of astronauts will be available for won’t begin until at least the mid-to-late-2020s, around the time NASA plans to begin its next batch of crewed moon landings as a part of its Artemis program. They could also end up living and working aboard the International Space Station, or even launching on a future mission to Mars that—if all goes to plan—will put the first humans on the Red Planet by 2040.

NASA has selected some 350 astronaut candidates since 1959, when the agency inducted seven male pilots into its training program. The lineup has since become considerably more diverse and inclusive of different genders and backgrounds, with doctors, schoolteachers and more joining the cosmic ranks.

You can throw your hat in the ring at this link until applications close at 11:59 p.m. EDT on March 31.

About Katherine J. Wu
Katherine J. Wu

Katherine J. Wu is a Boston-based science journalist and Story Collider senior producer whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Undark magazine, Popular Science and more. She holds a Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunobiology from Harvard University, and was Smithsonian magazine's 2018 AAAS Mass Media Fellow.

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