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Have you ever thought about how to be an astronaut? The question might be in some doubt with the end of the space shuttle program but it will definitely be of interest to anyone wanting to someday go on manned missions to Mars. The process of becoming an astronaut is grueling but can have significant rewards. Astronauts also do more than go on missions in space. Astronauts also help coordinate and plan missions from ground control. Here are some of the key things that anyone needs to do if they want to become an astronaut.
The first thing to know is that there are three different kinds of astronauts and each kind of astronauts is chosen on a different set of criterion. The first and most well known group of astronauts are the pilots. They are the ones that fly the space shuttle and other space craft on mission. In most cases pilots have previous experience with it mostly being in the Air Force or Navy. These two branches of have flight components that give important flight experience. A pilot is required to have 1000 hours flight time in a jet engine as one of the requirements. Another major requirement is that they meet slightly tougher physical requirements. They have to have vision better than 20/100 and it has to be correctable to 20/20 in each eye. Other requirements are to be 62 to 75 inches and have a sitting blood pressure of 140/90.
Mission specialist and payload specialists are the two other categories of astronauts. Both do work concerning the specific space missions and experiments. Mission specialists organize the crew activity, the general parameters of the mission, equipment and supplies. Payload specialists have similar duties but they are more specialized. They are often picked because the equipment used for a specific mission requires special handling. Both mission specialists and payload specialist have the same vision requirements. They both need to have vision that is 20/200 or better than can be corrected to 20/20 in each eye. They also need a sitting blood pressure of 140/90.
Besides These physical requirements astronauts need relevant education. In general all astronauts need a bachelor’s degree in a physical science, biological science, or engineering. In most cases astronauts also need to have advanced degrees or requisite experience of three years. If you have a Ph.D. then the experience requirement is waived. The only exception is for payload specialist. The requirements are set by the company or organization that is providing the equipment.
The toughest part of becoming an astronaut is being selected for missions. Even within the pool of astronauts accepted, only a few will get to go on manned missions in space. This is especially difficult with the impending conclusion of the space shuttle program. However new launch systems that NASA is in the process of contracting may make going to space cheaper in the future making more missions available.
We’ve recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast all about the space shuttle. Listen here, Episode 127: The US Space Shuttle.