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11 min read

Becoming an Astronaut: Frequently Asked Questions


Expedition 52 flight engineer Randy Bresnik of NASA demonstrates the width inside a Soyuz simulator, Thursday, July 6, 2017 at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) in Star City, Russia. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

What are the requirements to apply?

The basic requirements to apply include United States citizenship with master’s degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields and a minimum of two years of relevant professional experience or at least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. Teaching experience, including experience at the K – 12 levels, is considered to be qualifying experience for the Astronaut Candidate position, provided the degree is in a Science, Engineering, or Mathematics field.
The requirement for the master’s degree can also be met by:

  • Two years (36 semester hours or 54 quarter hours) of work toward a Ph.D. program in a related science, technology, engineering or math field;
  • A completed doctor of medicine or doctor of osteopathic medicine degree;
  • Or completion (or current enrollment that will result in completion by June 2021) of a nationally recognized test pilot school program.

The following degree fields, while related to engineering and the sciences, are not considered qualifying:

  • Degrees in Technology (Engineering Technology, Aviation Technology, Medical Technology, etc.)
  • Degrees in Psychology (except for Clinical Psychology, Physiological Psychology, or Experimental Psychology which are qualifying).
  • Degrees in Nursing
  • Degrees in Exercise Physiology or similar fields
  • Degrees in Social Sciences (Geography, Anthropology, Archaeology, etc.)
  • Degrees in Aviation, Aviation Management, or similar fields

Astronaut candidates must also be able to pass the NASA long-duration astronaut physical, which includes the following specific requirements:

  • Distant and near visual acuity must be correctable to 20/20 in each eye. The use of glasses is acceptable. The refractive surgical procedures of the eye, PRK and LASIK, are allowed. Note that such surgeries are permitted, but not required for potential applicants.
  • Since all crewmembers will be expected to fly aboard spacecraft and perform space walks, applicants must meet the anthropometric requirements for both the spacecraft and the spacesuit. Applicants brought in for an interview will be evaluated to ensure they meet the anthropometric requirements.

Do you have to be a U.S. citizen to apply for the Astronaut Candidate Program?

Yes, you must be a U.S. citizen to apply for the program through NASA, applicants with valid U.S. dual-citizenship are also eligible. It is not recommended that you change your citizenship solely for the purpose of being eligible for the Astronaut Candidate Program. 

NASA astronauts do train and fly with international astronauts from the countries with which we have an international agreements. Each of these countries has their own space agency. You can obtain information about other space agencies at the following website: International Space Agencies.

Are there age restrictions?

There are no age restrictions for the program. Astronaut candidates selected in the past have ranged between the ages of 26 and 46, with the average age being 34.

Is the online assessment a new part of the application process? Why was it added?

NASA has always strived to consistently and fairly evaluate the applicants we get for this position – we know that it is a lifelong dream for many people. NASA has typically used multiple assessments during the interview phase of the evaluation. With the increased interest level that we experienced in our previous application period, we made the decision to move several assessments to the beginning of the process, to help ensure that the applications that are evaluated by the Astronaut Rating Panel best reflect the requirements of the position. This practice is consistent with modern hiring practices across the government and industry, and should improve our capability to evaluate applicants based on the competencies that are important to the job.

Is flying experience necessary?

Flying experience is not a requirement. The Astronaut Candidate Program requires either 2 years of professional related experience, or 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft to meet the minimum qualification requirement. Jet aircraft experience is usually obtained through the military. Any type of flying experience-military or private, is beneficial to have.

What happens if I’m selected?

Selected applicants will be designated Astronaut Candidates and assigned to the Astronaut Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The astronaut candidates will undergo a training and evaluation period lasting approximately two years, during which time they will participate in the basic Astronaut Candidate training program, which is designated to develop the knowledge and skills required for formal mission training upon selection for a flight. Astronaut Candidates with jet piloting backgrounds will maintain proficiency in NASA aircraft during their candidate period.

As part of the Astronaut Candidate training program, Astronaut Candidates are required to complete military water survival before beginning their flying syllabus, and become scuba qualified to prepare them for the spacewalk training. Consequently, all Astronaut Candidates will be required to pass a swimming test during the first month of training.

Applicants should be aware that selection as an Astronaut Candidate does not ensure selection as an astronaut. Final selection as an astronaut will depend upon satisfactory completion of the training and evaluation period. Graduation from the Astronaut Candidate program will require successful completion of the following: International Space Station systems training, spacewalk skills training, robotics skills training, Russian language training, and aircraft flight readiness training. Civilian candidates who successfully complete the training and evaluation and are selected as astronauts will become permanent Federal employees. Successful military candidates will be detailed to NASA for a specified tour of duty.

What is the annual salary for astronauts?

Starting in 2021, salaries for civilian Astronaut Candidates are based on the NASA Excepted (NEX) authority, due to the unique nature of their jobs, duties, work roles, requirements, and other aspects of carrying out mission assignments. Though NASA continues to recruit astronauts with diverse skills sets and experience levels, all astronaut candidates begin astronaut training at the same level; no one has prior experience as an astronaut, so all astronaut candidates start at the same rate of pay. The current pay structure ranges from $141,888 to $183,300. Pay increases are tied to specific, job-related milestones, such as successful completion of all astronaut training requirements.

How do I contact the Astronaut Selection Office?

You may contact the Astronaut Selection Office at astronaut.selection@nasa.gov or 281-483-5907.


Why did NASA change the requirement from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree?

NASA has always said that a master’s degree was preferred, and historically most of the applicants that were invited to be interviewed for the position and those who were ultimately selected have had at least a master’s degree. Changing this requirement allows us to be more transparent with our applicants. The master’s degree must be completed by the time the application deadline closes.

What is the best degree field to choose?

Among the academic fields considered qualifying for astronaut candidate positions, we would not recommend one over another or specify which might be more appropriate in the future. You should choose a field of study that is of interest to you; this will ensure that, whatever course your career takes, you will be prepared to do something that is personally satisfying. The qualifying degree fields are: Engineering, Biological Science, Physical Science, Computer Science, or Mathematics. You can obtain information on the backgrounds of the current and past astronauts at the following website: https://www.nasa.gov/astronauts/biographies/active

What is the best college or university to attend?

NASA cannot recommend one college or university over another, or specify which schools might best prepare an individual for the Astronaut Candidate Program. However, please remember that the college or university you attend must be an accredited institution. 

Do my transcripts have to be in a sealed envelope?

All applicants must upload their transcripts at the time they apply to the vacancy announcement on USAJobs. Please upload transcripts that show both the degree conferred and the date the degree was conferred.

How can students prepare to apply to be an astronaut in the future?

NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement shared 10 ways students can prepare to be an astronaut. 


Are waivers granted for any of the medical requirements?

No. NASA does not grant waivers for the medical requirements. When qualifying astronauts for spaceflight, NASA must look at not only what is required for normal spaceflight operations, but also what each astronaut would require should serious, even life-threatening, problems develop. For maximum crew safety, each crewmember must be free of medical conditions that would either impair the person’s ability to participate in, or be aggravated by, spaceflight, as determined by NASA physicians.

Is surgery to improve visual acuity allowed?

As of September 2007, the refractive surgical procedures of the eye, PRK and LASIK, are now allowed, providing at least 1 year has passed since the date of the procedure with no permanent adverse after effects. For those applicants under final consideration, an operative report on the surgical procedure will be requested.

After preliminary screening by the military, eligible applications are submitted to NASA for further consideration. If selected, military personnel are detailed to NASA for a selected period of time.


Is it better to apply as a civilian or through the military?

Military experience is not a requirement for the Astronaut Candidate Program. Active duty military personnel must also submit their application for the Astronaut Candidate Program through their respective service.

How does an active-duty military person apply for the Astronaut Candidate Program?

Active-duty military applicants must apply through USAJOBs and notify their respective military service

Does an active-duty military applicant submit their transcripts to NASA?

Please follow the application procedures listed on USAJobs, which includes uploading copies of your transcripts at the time you submit your application.

What is the annual salary for military astronauts?

Military Astronaut Candidates are detailed to the Johnson Space Center and remain in an active duty status for pay, benefits, leave, and other similar military matters.


How do I apply through USAJOBs?

Please read the entire announcement and all the instructions before you begin an application. To apply for this position, you must complete the initial online application, the initial online assessment and submission of the required documentation specified in the Required Documents section below. The complete application package must be submitted by 11:59 PM (ET) on the closing date of the announcement to receive consideration. The application process is as follows:

  1. To begin the application process, click the Apply Online button.
  2. Answer the questions presented in the application and attach all necessary supporting documentation.
  3. Click the Submit Application button prior to 11:59PM (ET) on the announcement closing date.
  4. After submitting an online application, you will be notified whether or not you are required to take additional online assessments through the USA Hire Competency Based Assessment system. This message will be delivered to you both on screen and via email notification.

If you are asked to take the USA Hire Competency Based Assessments, you will be presented with a unique URL to access the USA Hire system. Access to USA Hire is granted through your USAJOBS login credentials. Be sure to review all instructions prior to beginning your USA Hire Assessments.

Note, set aside at least 3 hours to take these assessments; however, most applicants complete the assessments in less time. If you need to stop the assessments and continue at a later time, you can re-use the URL sent to you via email and also found on the Additional Application Information page that can be located in the application record in your USAJOBS account.

How do I update my application after the closing date of the vacancy announcement?

You may update your application documents and some questions related to your personal information at any time during the announcement open period. However, you will not be able to make changes to questions related to assessing the minimum qualifications and competencies (knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics) mentioned in the “How You Will Be Evaluated” section of the vacancy announcement. To make an allowed update to your application, return to your USAJOBS account (https://secure.login.gov/). There you will find a record of your application, the application status, and an option to Update Application. This option will no longer be available once the announcement has closed.

How do I verify the status of my application?

To verify the status of your application both during and after the announcement open period, log into your USAJOBS account: https://secure.login.gov/ . All of your applications will appear on the Welcome page. The application record in your USAJOBS account provides an Additional Application Information page that provides information regarding the documentation you submitted and any correspondence we have sent related to this application. The Application Status will appear along with the date your application was last updated. For information on what each Application Status means, visit: https://www.usajobs.gov/Help/how-to/application/status/

Can I provide additional information to include in my application package after the announcement closes?

Please be sure to include all information you would like to be considered before submitting your application. Once the announcement closes, only updates to contact information will be accepted. Please do not send copies of diplomas, letters of recommendation, or any other unsolicited application material.