I’ve had some questions from school visits and public lectures recently about the best educational strategy to follow for aspiring astronauts. Here’s my brief advice:
- As you consider college and your future career, remember that NASA is looking for aspirants who have a science or engineering degree. You must earn a 4-year undergraduate degree in science or engineering, and then obtain at least three years of work experience. See http://astronauts.nasa.gov/.
- There is no “best” subject or career discipline to study. Choose anything from Astronomy to Zoology — as long as you love the subject! NASA has hired astronauts from all science disciplines and engineering backgrounds, and my classmates included physicists, materials scientists, flight test engineers, aerospace engineers, planetary scientists, and so on. My colleagues were veterinarians, medical doctors, military test pilots, and laser physicists. The important thing is to love your discipline, so you will excel, so you will be an expert, so NASA will be eager to have your expertise!
- Remember that the commercial spaceflight firms may soon hire astronauts to pilot their spaceplanes or capsules, to be adventure tour guides, in-flight cabin crewmembers, and eventually, industrial facility or space hotel operators. Most of the same educational requirements apply.
- Because NASA received over 6300 applications this last winter for its 2013 class (probably 10 or fewer candidates will be chosen), to be competitive, an applicant will usually need a Master’s degree or even a PhD or M.D. That extra education signals the ability to conduct independent research or to master the latest techniques in the field (aerospace engineering, for example). My advice is to apply when you are eligible, but keep applying as you work toward that advanced degree–which also counts for work experience.
- If you don’t make it at first to the astronaut ranks, your choice of career will be even more important, because your profession will have to engage and support you for a lifetime. Choose something you love to do — and make sure someone will pay you for doing it!
More to come in a later post about how the actual selection process goes at NASA.
(Astronaut selection and training is the topic of one of the earliest speeches I gave as an astronaut…would love to tell your group about the topic.)