Twenty-three years ago, in January 1990, I received an invitation to join NASA’s Astronaut Corps. It was the best job I ever had (read about my selection, training, and exhilarating flights in “Sky Walking: An Astronaut’s Memoir.” I’m frequently asked today for tips or advice on how new applicants — some very bright and talented people — can improve their chances of threading NASA’s selection process and achieving their dream of spaceflight. Here are a few thoughts:
- Consult NASA’s astronaut selection and training site to learn the basic requirements and procedures. But — you’ve already done that.
- Participate in some outdoor, physical, active hobby or pursuit that complements your day job and shows aptitude for skills needed in spaceflight. If you’re having fun, you’ve chosen a good activity! Keep getting better at it.
- Increase your chances of passing the NASA physical by following a regular exercise and fitness program. Get to your ideal weight – it makes a good impression and avoids health problems later.
- Become conversant about one specific aspect of the NASA human spaceflight program — present or planned — and be able to discuss it comfortably with the selection panel. You should know what you’re getting into.
- Be meticulous about your application. Typos and grammatical errors were an instant turn-off for me when I was at NASA. Showcase your professional skills in writing and communication.
- Tell NASA in your application what you will bring to their team. How will you help advance specific NASA goals?
Once your application is in, keep improving your resume. If you are offered an interview, you’ll be able to bring new and interesting material to the Selection Panel interview. If you are offered that trip to Houston for an interview:
- Ask questions on your visits to the Astronaut Office. Poke your head in the office doors and ask crewmembers what they are working on, and what they like and dislike about the job.
- In the interview, be yourself. Keep your answers brief and specific, but don’t be afraid to speak plainly and sincerely. The panelists want to get a sense of who you are – and if they would like to work with you.
- Let your natural enthusiasm for space shine. Be professional yet enthusiastic. I was eager to get the chance to interview, and let the panelists know it.
- Take the long view. If not selected, you can apply again. Resolve to go back to your present job and to improve your qualifications for the next round.
- Network with your fellow applicants, online, and in Houston. Perhaps someone chosen can help you with advice for the next opportunity. And you might make a life-long friend.
- Have fun!
I believe NASA will keep hiring small numbers of astronauts to keep their work force adaptable and energized. See the report of the NRC panel on the future of astronaut training that I helped prepare in 2010. And remember that the commercial spaceflight sector, as it grows, will also need talented crewmembers. There are broader opportunities today than ever before in space, although the numbers of people flying to orbit annually will remain at less than a dozen, at least for another five to ten years.
Good luck! Say hello to my friends on the selection panel. And send me a note from space!