Student Features

Astronaut Requirements
01.29.04
 
Have you ever wondered if you have what it takes to become a NASA Astronaut? The term "astronaut" derives from the Greek words meaning "space sailor," and refers to all who have been launched as crew members aboard NASA spacecraft bound for orbit and beyond. Since the inception of NASA's human space flight program, we have also maintained the term "astronaut" as the title for those selected to join the NASA corps of astronauts who make "space sailing" their career profession. The term "cosmonaut" refers to those space sailors who are members of the Russian space program.

The crew of each launched spacecraft is made up of astronauts or cosmonauts drawn from the various categories described in these pages. The crew assignments and duties of commander, pilot, mission specialist, or payload specialist are drawn from the NASA professional career astronauts. Mission Applicants for the Astronaut Candidate Program must be citizens of the United States.

Commander and Pilot Astronaut Duties

Astronaut attired in a training version of the shuttle launch and entry garment floating in pool at NBL
Astronaut Leroy Chiao in Training
Pilot astronauts serve as both Space Shuttle and International Space Station commanders and pilots. During flight, the commander has onboard responsibility for the vehicle, crew, mission success and safety of flight. The pilot assists the commander in controlling and operating the vehicle. In addition, the pilot may assist in the deployment and retrieval of satellites utilizing the remote manipulator system, in extravehicular activities, and in other payload operations.

Basic requirements for an Astronaut Pilot include the following:

1. Bachelor's degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics. An advanced degree is desirable. Quality of academic preparation is important.

2. At least 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. Flight test experience is highly desirable.

3. Ability to pass a NASA space physical which is similar to a military or civilian flight physical and includes the following specific standards:
  • Distant visual acuity: 20/100 or better uncorrected, correctable to 20/20 each eye.
  • Blood pressure: 140/90 measured in a sitting position.
  • Height between 62 and 75 inches.


Mission Specialists

Mission specialist astronauts work with the commander and the pilot and have overall responsibility for coordinating operations in the following areas: systems, crew activity planning, consumables usage, and experiment/payload operations. Mission specialists are trained in the details of the onboard systems, as well as the operational characteristics, mission requirements/ objectives, and supporting equipment/systems for each of the experiments conducted on their assigned missions. Mission specialists perform extravehicular activities (EVAs), or space walks, operate the remote manipulator system, and are responsible for payloads and specific experiment operations.

Astronaut wearing Lower Extremity Monitoring Suit (LEMS)
Astronaut Foale in the Lower Extremity Monitoring Suit on the International Space Station
Mission Specialist Astronaut Duties

Mission specialist astronauts, working with the commander and pilot, have overall responsibility for the coordination of Shuttle operations in the areas of crew activity planning, consumables usage, and experiment and payload operations. Mission specialists are required to have a detailed knowledge of Shuttle systems, as well as detailed knowledge of the operational characteristics, mission requirements and objectives, and supporting systems and equipment for each payload element on their assigned missions. Mission specialists will perform extravehicular activities, payload handling using the remote manipulator system, and perform or assist in specific experiment operations.


Basic requirements for a Mission Specialist include the following:

1. Bachelor's degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics. Degree must be followed by at least three years of related, progressively responsible, professional experience. An advanced degree is desirable and may be substituted for part or all of the experience requirement (master's degree = 1 year of experience, doctoral degree = 3 years of experience). Quality of academic preparation is important.

2. Ability to pass a NASA space physical, which is similar to a military or civilian flight physical and includes the following specific standards:
  • Distance visual acuity: 20/200 or better uncorrected, correctable to 20/20, each eye.
  • Blood pressure: 140/90 measured in a sitting position.
3. Height between 58.5 and 76 inches.

Payload Specialists

Payload specialists are persons other than NASA astronauts (including foreign nationals) who have specialized onboard duties; they may be added to shuttle crews if activities that have unique requirements are involved and more than the minimum crew size of five is needed.

First consideration for additional crew members is given to qualified NASA mission specialists. When payload specialists are required they are nominated by NASA, the foreign sponsor, or the designated payload sponsor. In the case of NASA or NASA-related payloads, the nominations are based on the recommendations of the appropriate Investigator Working Group (IWG).

Although payload specialists are not part of the Astronaut Candidate Program, they must have the appropriate education and training related to the payload or experiment. All applicants must meet certain physical requirements and must pass NASA space physical examinations with varying standards depending on classification.

To find out more about the requirements for becoming a NASA Astronaut, please visit the links below.

http://www.nasajobs.nasa.gov/astronauts

http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/