How to Become an Astronaut

Is your child interested in space science? Is she curious to explore the vast expanse out there? In short, does she dream of becoming an astronaut? Here’s what you can do to encourage her.

By Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj

How to Become an Astronaut

It was a giant leap for mankind when Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon, on July 20, 1969. Fifteen years later, Rakesh Sharma's space odyssey made him the first Indian to become orbit-bound. Today, exploring the vast infinity of space means a little more than a hop, skip and jump. So why don't you encourage your child to become an astronaut? As the first step, you will need to watch out for these qualities in your child – creativity, curiosity, resilience, observational skills, adaptability and an aptitude for science and research, for these are the basic characteristics of an astronaut. Apart from this, here's what you need to know to get your child started off on that spectacular journey.

Eligibility criteria

Dr M Annadurai, Director ISAC (*ISRO Satellite Centre), Bengaluru, who was the programme director for Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan missions states that, "A graduation in basic science and engineering will help your child understand and acquire the skill-sets required to become an astronaut." Therefore, the initial step for your child would be to acquire a basic degree in any technical field; however, a degree in aerospace or aeronautical engineering will be of added value. IIST (Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology) is one such institution that offers courses in Aerospace Engineering and Avionics.

Knowledge of flying

As far as knowledge of flying is concerned, Dr Annadurai says, "It is not a must but it will certainly help in early adoption to space travel." So, your child may enrol in a flying school and obtain a pilot’s license after meeting the age norms required for flying. Your child can also opt to join the Air Force, become a test pilot and then enrol for training to become an astronaut. For, Dr Annadurai feels that it would certainly be an advantage for your child to be an Air Force pilot.

Physical and mental fitness

According to Dr Annadurai, the most important criteria to become an astronaut are physical fitness, agility and alertness. Andrew Prince, student of class 11 at Indian School, Muscat who attended a space camp at NASA while on a field trip, also stresses the importance of fitness. He says, “The phrase, ‘Survival of the fittest’ holds good even in space. Unless you have a high level of physical and mental fitness, you cannot survive there. So, you should maintain good health, stay fit and be focussed if you want to be selected for the extensive and rigorous training programme meant for astronauts.” Therefore, ensure that your child enjoys good health and has great mental strength.

ISRO only a future option

ISRO (*Indian Space Research Organisation) is not sending astronauts into space right now though it might do so some time in the future. So, your child will have to apply to any other space agency such as the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) for selection to be trained as an astronaut.

To the Milky Way Through NASA

Here’s what NASA has listed out as the basic qualification requirements for a budding astronaut (non-piloting background):

  1. Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics. Quality of academic preparation is important.
  2. Degree must be followed by at least 3 years of related, progressively responsible, professional experience or at least 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. An advanced degree is desirable and may be substituted for experience as follows: master’s degree = 1 year of experience, doctoral degree = 3 years of experience. Teaching experience, including experience at the K - 12 levels, is considered to be qualifying experience for the Astronaut Candidate position; therefore, educators are encouraged to apply.
  3. Ability to pass the NASA long-duration space flight physical, which includes the following specific requirements:
  • Distant and near visual acuity: must be correctable to 20/20, each eye
  • Blood pressure not to exceed 140/90 measured in a sitting position
  • Standing height between 62 and 75 inches

Armed with this information, go on and get your child started on his space odyssey.