How To Become An Astronaut

Is your child interested in space science? Is she curious to explore the vast expanse out there? In short, is she wondering how to become 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 out there means a little more than a hop, skip and jump. So why don't you encourage your child to become an astronaut? 

How to become an astronaut

Once you decide to help your child pursue his dream of becoming a space scientist, as the first step, you will need to watch out for these qualities in him – 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.

Astronaut qualifications

*Dr Mylswamy Annadurai, former Director ISAC (ISRO Satellite Centre), Bangalore, who was the programme director for Chandrayaan – 1 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.

Astronaut requirements

Can only pilots apply to be astronauts?

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 special 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.” Therefore, ensure that your child enjoys good health and has great mental strength in order to pursue a career in space science.

What do astronauts learn to do during training?

It requires a lot of hard work and rigorous training. Here’s what a typical course would include:

Duration –

Generally, around two years of training would be given for the first phase of preparation.

How do you train to be an astronaut?

Theoretical –

  • Technical know-how
  • Knowledge of space station vehicles and systems
  • Study of engineering, earth sciences, meteorology and space science
  • Basic knowledge of medical procedures
  • Learning of languages

Practical –

  • Flying training jets
  • Simulated experiences in mock-up facilities
  • Exposure and preparation to experience microgravity (weightlessness)
  • Practise moving large objects in space (on precision air-bearing floors)
  • Space-walking in a neutral buoyancy simulator / laboratory
  • Training to cope with emergencies (water and land survival course)
  • Swimming and scuba diving

During the next phase of training –

Proficiency in pre-launch, launch, orbit, entry and landing activities will be ensured.

During the final phase of training –

The selected candidates will be given advanced mission training on their specific assignments and crew. This will last for around 10 months.

How can I become an astronaut in ISRO?

As far as ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) is concerned, it's initial manned flights will carry test pilots from the Indian Air Force. However it is not training astronauts from the civilian domain right now although it might do so some time in the future. So, if your child, is not among the test pilots in the Indian Air Force, he will have to apply to any other space agency such as the NASA.

How to get an internship at ISRO?

The centres under the Department of Space (DOS) in India, offer three types of internships – summer internship, winter internship and long-term internship.

For information on how to apply for internship, readHow To Get An Internship In ISRO

How can I become an astronaut in NASA?

If your teen wants to pursue the NASA path to the Milky Way, 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

How to get an internship at NASA?

Internship at NASA is open only to students who are US citizens. The NASA Internship Program at Langley Research Center is a fantastic opportunity for students to conduct research and work on projects along with scientists, researchers, engineers and mission support teams.

To know more about the NASA Internship Program, visit the NASA website.

How much do astronauts get paid?

According to a report in the Business Insider, the annual salaries of NASA astronauts are based on a government pay scale at grades: GS-12 and GS-13. Based on this, the annual income range for a NASA astronaut can range anywhere between $64,000 and $98,500 depending on their experience.

Armed with this information, go on and get your child started on his dream mission - to pursue a career in space science! 

About the expert:

Reviewed by *Dr Mylswamy Annadurai, M.E., Ph D on 2 August 2019

Padma Shri Dr Annadurai, the 'Moon Man', is a renowned Indian scientist who is currently the Vice president for Tamil Nadu State Council for Science and Technology (TNSCST). The highlights of his nearly four decade experience at ISRO include two major missions - Chandrayaan-1 and Mangalyaan. 

About the author:

Written by Dr Priscilla J S Selvaraj, PhD (Eng & Edu) on 4 August 2017; updated on 27 December 2019

The author is an educationist, language specialist and writer. In a career spanning over two decades, she has taught from preschool to B-School and trained teachers, master trainers and software professionals. She is also a former member of curriculum and syllabus development committees (Govt of Tamil Nadu). Her passion for the written word matches her enthusiasm for entertaining little kids by breaking out into nursery rhymes.

Looking for expert tips and interesting articles on parenting? Subscribe now to our magazine. Connect with us on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Join our Circles to share, discuss and learn from fellow parents and experts!