Can you think of any job more exciting than being an astronaut? Any astronaut will tell you, the hours are long, the work is hard and far from glamorous, but it's definitely exciting and rewarding. Who are the men and women who make up the astronaut corps? Is there a special quality that makes someone astronaut material?
Image to right: Being an astronaut seems exciting to most people on Earth. Credit: NASA
NASA's astronaut corps, representing almost all 50 states, has over 300 current and former members. The first astronaut team, comprised of seven men, was selected in 1959. Since then there has been a series of milestones in the history of human spaceflight, including:
Image to left: Guion Bluford was the first African-American to fly on the Space Shuttle. Credit: NASA
- 1961: Russian Yuri Gagarin was the first human to fly in space.
- 1961: Alan Shepard was the first American to fly in space. (Freedom 7)
- 1962: John Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth. (Friendship 7)
- 1963: Russian Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to fly in space.
- 1969: Neil Armstrong was the first human to set foot on the surface of the Moon. He was also the first astronaut to become an educator. (Apollo 11)
- 1983: Sally Ride was America's first female astronaut to fly on the Space Shuttle. (STS-7)
- 1983: NASA's first African-American astronaut was Guion Bluford. (STS-8)
- 1992: NASA's first African-American woman astronaut was Mae Jemison. (STS-47)
Anyone applying for a slot in an astronaut candidate class must be well-prepared. The job requirement specifies a minimum of a bachelor's degree in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics. Most astronaut candidates have advanced degrees, as well as years of continuing experience in a related field. Pilot astronaut candidates also must have completed at least 1,000 hours of pilot-flying time. Astronaut candidate applicants, as well as applicants in all fields, have a much better chance for selection if they are involved in a wide range of interests and academic pursuits.
Image to right: The STS-114 crew poses in their space suits. Credit: NASA
There are several classifications of astronauts. The commander is the captain of the ship, who gives orders and makes decisions affecting the crew and mission. His or her understudy is the pilot, who has attained the same level of training. Both pilot and commander must have completed at least 1,000 hours of flight time in command of a jet aircraft; this is typically attained through military service. Mission specialists are usually scientists or engineers who bring expertise in experiments or procedures to a spaceflight. The newest category of astronaut is Educator Astronaut. The Educator Astronaut is a teacher who leaves the classroom to become an astronaut with an emphasis on educational topics. All astronauts go through extensive training lasting several years. Their preparations include foreign language instruction, emergency preparedness, physical conditioning, classroom education in scientific and engineering principles and simulation of all procedures they could encounter in space.
Image to left: Barbara Morgan is ready to fly on the Space Shuttle.
Barbara Morgan will be the first Educator Astronaut to fly on the Space Shuttle. Educator Astronauts are fully qualified members of NASA’s Astronaut Corps and are trained to perform all of the functions and responsibilities of the agency's mission specialist astronauts. Morgan has been a member of the Mission Control team, communicating with onboard crews during their missions. She is expected to fly in space in 2006. Before joining NASA's astronaut team, Morgan taught reading, mathematics and science in Montana, Idaho and Ecuador. Morgan feels that educators are especially suited to work as astronauts because teachers are motivated to learn, work well with other people, are accustomed to complex ideas and procedures and view every situation as a learning experience.
Astronauts stress that their keys to success have been to do well in many areas of school, to always be involved, to be a team player and to never stop learning. Are they describing you?