January 28 • 09:08 PM
QR Code
flag image

This example shows extensive visuals, feedback, embedded display ads, subheads, drop caps, paragraph indents and some embedded inclusions. Do you have a 4-year-old in your house who can explain elliptical orbits? Were you surprised to hear that your 7-year-old thinks Apollo Astronaut Bob Lovell is a really cool guy?

Should I be...?
Do your teenagers fight to get a look at the Mir through the family telescope? If someone in your family has become space-obsessed, you are not alone. Astronaut has quickly shot to the top of the list of what kids want to be when they grow up, and it's easy to see why!

In recent months, NASA (National Aeronautics & Space Administration) has captured all our imaginations with breathtaking pictures of the Martian landscape and the discovery of water on the moon. Even preschoolers were lured into the vacuum of space over their morning cereal when Sesame Street launched Slimey the worm and his fellow WASA (Worm Air & Space Agency) astro-worms into space for a moon walk.

Combine these exciting developments with the July launch of the first piece of the International Space Station, and we have an atmosphere ripe for the development of thousands of future astronauts. That's a good thing because the same organization that is inspiring our kids today will be hiring them tomorrow. NASA's demand for astronauts and the scientists who launch them into space is increasing.

So when your child says she wants to be an astronaut, this might be just another phase she's going through. Or it might be the beginning of a fascination with science and technology that will take her into orbit and beyond. Why not encourage her to start training today?

Space Walk
That suit must weight 500 pounds. Good news - it's only worn in weightless environments.
Photo by Natalie Powers.
reprints Reprints
What is an astronaut?
When it comes to knowing the job description of an astronaut, Ashleigh and Jacob McCord both have it figured out. Seven-year-old Ashleigh says that astronauts See planets and bring back pictures and find out stuff about planets that people don't know. Her brother Jacob, 6, says the astronaut's job is controlling the ship.

The first step in planning for a career among the stars is to decide which of these two types of astronauts you want to be. Do you want to fly and control the spacecraft? If so, then you want to be a pilot astronaut. A pilot astronaut may serve as the shuttle commander or the pilot. The commander has overall responsibility for the shuttle vehicle, the crew, and the safety and success of the mission. The pilot assists the commander in operating and controlling the vehicle.

If you want to perform space walks, take pictures, and conduct experiments, then you want to be a mission specialist astronaut. A mission specialist has specific duties relating to the mission's experiments and payload. For example, one mission specialist might be in charge of a group of plant or animal experiments. Another might be responsible for retrieving and repairing a satellite.

Each astronaut has specific responsibilities, but they all work together to accomplish the mission's goals. They all learn each other's jobs so that the safety or success of the mission is not compromised. The commander and pilot are able to participate in experiments and space walks; the mission specialists can guide the shuttle orbiter through re-entry and landing.

People work at NASA.
People work at NASA.
Photo by Natalie Powers.
reprints Reprints
What's the Right Stuff?
Every potential astronaut must meet NASA's strict physical and academic guidelines. Physical requirements for pilot astronauts include distance vision of 20/50 or better uncorrected, correctable to 20/20, and height must be between 64 and 76 inches.

Mission specialists' physical requirements are a little less exclusive. Vision must be 20/100 or better uncorrected, correctable to 20/20; and height can be between 60 and 76 inches.

Academic requirements for both positions are at least a bachelor's degree in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics. Mission specialists must have an additional three years of professional work experience in a related field. An advanced degree may be substituted for part or all of the experience (master's degree = one year experience; doctoral degree = three years experience).

A pilot astronaut must have a minimum of 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. Although experience as a military test pilot is not a written requirement, to date no one has been selected as a pilot astronaut who does not have this military training.

Your genes will determine whether or not you meet the physical requirements, but how you meet the academic requirements is entirely up to you. Some astronauts in the past have been aeronautical engineers, geologists, doctors and chemists, just to name a few. Space shuttle mission STS-90, the Neurolab mission that flew in April, carried a crew of only seven. But if you count their degrees, on board were two aeronautical engineers, one Naval engineer, two doctors, one electrical engineer, one biologist, one psychologist, one physiologist, and one veterinarian. Does one of these fields of study sound like fun to you? If not, just follow your interests. NASA is going to need many different types of scientists in the future.

Where do I sign up?
There may be many different career paths to become an astronaut, but they all lead to the same place- the Astronaut Selection Office. About every two years this office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas announces that it is accepting applications for the Astronaut Candidate Program. Thousands of people complete the 13-page application, but most receive a polite no-thank-you note. If you are one of the 100 or so who make the first cut, you will get to travel to Houston for a week of interviews, physicals, and orientation. This is where the competition will really get tough.

Take Off
Here is a longer cutline to show the wrapping ability.
Photo by Natalie Powers.
reprints Reprints
Dr. W. A. Gustafson, associate head of Purdue University's School of Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering and professor to nine current and former NASA astronauts, knows why this part of the process is so difficult. He explains, The people of that final 100...they are pretty well qualified in most every respect and it would be hard to pick one out over the other one on paper. They (NASA) bring them down to Houston and they try to determine how well they function living in small quarters and how well they get along with other people because ultimately that's the kind of life they have to lead. If they can't function in that environment, they're not going to be very good astronauts.

After this grueling process, the hopefuls go back home and wait. Most do not expect to get the job. Astronaut Mary Cleave had already been turned down once, so when she received the call asking her to join the NASA team, she didn't say not Yes, but asked Who is this? She was certain someone was kidding her.

Being selected for astronaut training was the furthest thing from Astronaut David Wolf's mind the day he was notified. He had been traveling all day and had a stack of messages waiting when he arrived at his hotel. He was 34 years old when he finally made it into the program, but who got the first wake up call to hear the good news? I called my mom, replied Wolf.

In 1996, 2,400 people applied for the Astronaut Training Program. Thirty-five people were selected. That may seem like a small percentage, but when you compare that to the number of kids who dream of becoming a major league pitcher versus the number of pitcher positions, the odds start to look pretty good. And like Cleave and Wolf, many astronauts had to apply several times before they were accepted. When NASA turned them down, they went back to work improving their credentials for the next time around.

Space Shuttle
Pictures say a thousand words.
Photo by Natalie Powers.
reprints Reprints
What if I Get the Job?
Once you have been named to the new astronaut class, you will move to Houston and start training. Over the course of a year, you will attend classes in science and technology, read manuals, and study every subsystem on the shuttle. You will train in many different simulators including the WETF or Weightless Environment Test Facility. In the WETF, special suits will allow you to work underwater to learn how to move around and perform tasks in weightlessness. You will also practice using the shuttle's robot arm to maneuver astronauts and equipment around the payload bay.

If you are training as a pilot astronaut, you will make over 600 practice landings in the shuttle training aircraft. Since you will have only 14 seconds between the time your landing gear comes down and the time your wheels touch the runway, you will be glad you had lots of practice. And whether you are a pilot or a mission specialist candidate, you will accumulate a lot of flight time in NASA's high-speed training jets.

After completing your training, you will receive your mission assignment 10 months in advance of the launch date. In that time you will spend approximately 300 hours in the shuttle mission simulator. Eleven weeks before your mission you will begin rehearsing your mission with the Mission Control Center. You will practice the mission activities as they are planned, but you will also go over every conceivable problem your crew could encounter. Whether it's preparing meals in zero gravity or learning how to survive in the middle of the ocean while awaiting rescue, you will know exactly what to do when you lift off.

Most kids feel the adventure of traveling into space is more valuable than a good salary. Fortunately, if you become an astronaut you will get both. The current salary range for astronauts is somewhere between $36,000 and $80,000. You will receive the same benefits and holidays as other government employees. But today's astronauts are not showered with fringe benefits like the original seven astronauts were back in the 1960s. The days of free Corvettes and no-cost life insurance plans are over. Shuttle astronaut Kathryn Sullivan put it this way, If somebody comes up and offers you a Corvette, unless it's a three-inch plastic model that costs forty-nine cents, you'd better not take it.

What can I do right now?
Learn everything you can about everything, but focus on science. Dr. Gustafson advises, Almost any field they (kids) are going to study which will lead them to be an astronaut is certainly going to require a background in the fundamental sciences of mathematics and physics and chemistry. Whether you grow up to be an astronaut, an assemblyman or an algebra teacher, you are going to need these basics to function in a technologically advanced workplace.

It's a good idea to take all the math and science courses you can while in junior high and high school to prepare you for college, but that doesn't mean you have to put your nose in a book and leave it there. School science fairs are a fun way to learn basic scientific concepts. And 4-H clubs, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts all offer learning opportunities in the areas of science, math, and biology in addition to being a lot of fun.

Citi Bank
click to see advertisement
Of course space camp is the ultimate learning facility for future astronauts. Here you get to spend a week living and working as an astronaut. You will learn the basics of rocket propulsion systems and work in simulators like those in official NASA astronaut training classes. You will also learn to work as part of a team and share the responsibility of a mission.

Buzz Aldrin, one of the first Apollo astronauts to walk on the moon, gives this advice to future astronauts, I'd set as your goal to be a life-long learner. Study science and mathematics, history, language arts, computer science, home economics and vocational education. Study other languages and cultures. He continues, Become a master at one thing, perhaps astrophysics or medicine, but know how to launch a model rocket and use a ham radio. And especially learn how to teach...spacefarers of the future will have to be able to teach each other as they navigate the stars.

- What if you aren't very good at science or math? Don't count yourself out of the space race just yet. While in grade school, Shannon Lucid decided that she wanted to become a chemist but she found out she was going to have to know math. That almost dissuaded me, Shannon confesses, because I wasn't really good in arithmetic when I was young. Shannon worked hard to overcome her dislike for math and has gone on to fly on five shuttle missions and lived on the Mir space station for 6 months, longer than any other woman in the world.

Finally, don't just fill your head with knowledge. Aspiring astronauts also need to follow their hearts. Former astronaut Story Musgrave suggests asking yourself this question, What do you have fun doing? What are you interested in? If you have an interest, if you have a passion, you're going to do it well and you're going to put energy into it. He continues, To become an astronaut, then, I think you can do almost anything as long as you're good at it and you have a passion for it.

  1. report reply print email
    The final frontier
    January 03, 2007 | 12:58 PM

    I hope NASA is still around if our children get the opportunity for space flight. The way budget cuts have been running they'll be lucky to get of the ground.

    The International space station has picked up alot of slack, but i feel there is still opportunity for Lunar and Mars stations.

Reader Feedback Submission
Use this form to submit Reader Feedback. Your submission will be reviewed by our staff before appearing on the Web site.
* required value
Your Name*


Email (not shown on website)




smiley peteFor a small publishing company, with large amounts of content, wanting to make an impressive charge into cyberspace, without prior web-publishing experience, Linear Publishing delivered everything we needed, and even options we didn't know existed, in a quick and effective manner.

Linear's staff worked with us to make sure we had the site we wanted, and the software provided is easy and vast for continuous changes and improvements.

Within a month of launching, the results have already gone well beyond hopes and expectations. I recommend Linear Publishing as far as somebody is allowed to make a recommendation.

Robbie Clark
Web editor
Smiley Pete Publishing
01 - 28 - 22