What It Takes to Be an Astronaut

12 June, 2016

Is it your dream to fly and to work in space?

Do you want to be a NASA astronaut?

Like many jobs, the first thing would be to fill out the application.

A recording-breaking 18,300 people filled out applications recently to be an astronaut. NASA — the National Aeronautics and Space Administration — said that is how many people applied when it announced it was filling its 2017 Astronaut Candidate program.

But out of those 18,300 applicants, just eight to 14 will be hired by the U.S. space agency.

That means chances of becoming an astronaut are less than 0.08 percent. That makes getting into this program 65 times harder than getting into Harvard University. Their acceptance rate is 5.2 percent.

It will take NASA 18 months to decide who will be in the new class of astronauts.

Anne Roemer is NASA's Selection Manager. She said it is a very hard job — making the selections -- one they will do "very carefully."

"It starts by us reviewing all of the files to make sure they meet the basic qualifications, and then we actually utilize our current team of astronauts to come in and review the files as well."

The first requirement is the applicants must be U.S. citizens. They need a college degree in engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science, or mathematics. They also need at least three years of experience in a similar field or at least 1,000 hours as a jet airline pilot.

There are requirements to pass a physical test. And then there are personality tests as well.

What kinds of personality qualities is NASA looking for in an astronaut?

"I think leadership, teamwork, the ability to both work on a team, lead a team, but also follow, be a follower on a team. Communications certainly plays a role, so it's some pretty common skills that I think translate into even other professions."

About 120 applicants will be invited to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for a first round of interviews. Then, about half of them will go back for a second round.

Once the astronauts are selected, they must complete two years of training. This is when astronauts learn "a little bit of everything about spaceflight," Roemer said. Things like learning about all the systems used by NASA, and Russian language training.

Until the U.S. has a working vehicle to launch into space, NASA still depends on Russia to get astronauts into space.

They also learn EVA, or Extravehicular Activities. In other words, they learn all about walking in space.

"So they do a little bit of everything in that two-year window before moving into that mission specific training."

This is the group that may fly on as many as three new spacecraft still being developed. They include NASA's Orion, which will be taking people into deep space exploration. NASA hopes to get humans to Mars in the 2030s.

If you are you a young person interested in a space career later, Roemer offers this advice:

"The piece of advice that we always like to tell young folks that are interested is to pick a career that you are passionate and enthusiastic about, because you tend to do well with things you like, and then being an astronaut would be the icing on the cake to hopefully what would otherwise a very fulfilling career."

If you are chosen to be an astronaut, you would be part of a rare and prestigious group. The first seven astronauts were picked from the military in 1959. Since then, only 338 others have been chosen as NASA astronauts.

I'm Anne Ball.

Peggy Chang reported on this story for VOANews. Anne Ball adapted this story for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

application – n. a form used for making a request

personality – n. the set of emotional qualities, ways of behaving, etc., that makes a person different from other people

passionate – adj. having, showing or expressing strong emotions or beliefs

enthusiastic – adj. feeling or showing strong excitement about something

icing on the cake – phrase. something extra that makes a good thing even better

prestigious – adj. having the respect and admiration that someone or something gets for being successful or important