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  • Writer's picturebidyut gogoi

What It's Like to Become a NASA Astronaut: 5 Surprising Facts

Being an astronaut is a tremendous commitment. Astronaut candidates — who tend to be selected in their 30s and 40s — usually leave prestigious careers for a chance at being an astronaut, starting again at the bottom of the rung.

Training means long days at work and lots of travel. There's also no guarantee they'll make it into space.

Yet, more than 18,000 Americans competed in this round of NASA's astronaut selection. The new candidates will be announced Wednesday (June 7), and will report for basic training in August. Here's what it takes to be a NASA astronaut and what happens after the selection.

Astronaut requirements

To be an astronaut, you must meet rigorous criteria set by NASA. On addition to requiring excellent physical fitness, the job also requires the technological know-how to handle challenging tasks in a spaceship or on a space station distant from your place of residence.

A bachelor's degree in engineering, biology, physical science, computer science, or mathematics is the minimum prerequisite for the agency, followed by three years of professional experience (or 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft).

Candidates must also pass the astronaut physical examination conducted by NASA. However, there are a variety of additional abilities that might help with selection, including proficiency in foreign languages, wilderness survival, scuba diving, and leadership (especially Russian, which all astronauts are required to learn today.)

What an astronaut "class" looks like

Since the initial set of seven astronauts that were chosen for the Mercury programme in 1959, NASA has picked 22 different "classes" of astronauts. Since then, the space programme has expanded and undergone substantial development. The military, particularly test pilots, was used to recruit the majority of the first few batches of astronauts because they were seen as being capable of surviving the tremendous perils of space. But as NASA's mission advanced, a wider range of expertise was required.

Harrison J. Schmitt, the sole geologist to walk on the moon, was part of the fourth class of astronauts, nicknamed as "The Scientists," in 1969. (during Apollo 17).

The vehicles they will use

The new astronaut class may anticipate a wide range of vehicles. Today, astronauts utilise the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to travel to the International Space Station, which serves as the primary testing ground for extended space travel. However, NASA aims to once more depart from low-Earth orbit in the upcoming years in order to launch missions to the moon and Mars. If this happens, the new class of astronauts will go through deep space aboard the Orion spacecraft.

Once the new class of commercial spacecraft is complete, the new astronauts will be able to launch from American soil. For NASA's commercial crew programme, which is anticipated to begin in earnest by the end of the decade, both SpaceX and Boeing are building spaceships.

Where the new astronauts will go

The first flight of the new astronauts' careers may be to the International Space Station, or it might be beyond. It all relies on the direction that US space policy takes over the next few years and the initiatives that NASA gets involved in. The space station is expected to be operational until 2024, however it may remain operational until 2028 or longer.

Others are less clear, but NASA has a few concepts in mind. The organisation is putting its Orion spacecraft through testing ahead of its anticipated 2019 unmanned voyage past the moon. (The agency thought about boarding astronauts but opted against it owing to the added technological complexity.) The 2020s and beyond would then see Orion transporting people to

Passing the selection process

This round, a record 18,353 applications came in for just a handful of NASA spots. At first, human resources personnel reviewed each application to see if it met basic qualifications. Every application that qualified was then reviewed by a panel — the Astronaut Rating Panel. The rating panel is comprised of about 50 people, mostly current astronauts. The panel decided on a few hundred of the most highly qualified candidates, and then did reference checks on each candidate.

That step narrowed down the candidates to just 120 people. A smaller group, the Astronaut Selection Board, then called in these candidates for interviews and medical screening. After that, the top 50 candidates underwent a second round of interviews and more medical screenings. The final astronaut candidates will be selected from this group of 50 people.

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