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Astronaut fly to space to build and service International Space Station and conduct experiments.


$65,140 to $100,701


Houston, Texas (Johnson Space Center)

Minimum Educational Level

Bachelor’s degree

Core subjects

Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry

Special Requirements

Subject to NASA’s extensive health check

Career Progression

Astronaut Candidate > Astronaut > Mission Commander

The Astronaut Job

Today, all astronauts that fly to space have a single destination – the International Space Station (ISS). After the U.S. retired the Space Shuttle, Russia has become the only nation that is capable of sending people into space. Until NASA is finished with the development of its new man-rated rocket, American astronauts are being launched into ISS by Russian Soyuz rockets.

The activities that astronauts perform in space have changed over the years. Whereas a couple of decades ago the main objectives were building new components or exploring the moon, today most of the time is spent performing experiments. Astronauts on the ISS perform plenty of experiments, ranging from biological and medical to engineering research. The environment on the ISS is unique in that it is there is virtually zero gravity. Such conditions can hardly be reproduced on Earth. Therefore scientists take advantage of the ISS to test properties of materials or cells in zero gravity. These experiments are also beneficial for medical research. If we are to send spacecraft with humans in the deeper space, the understanding of how the human body reacts in such an environment is critical.

Besides doing research, astronauts also deploy smaller satellites or retrieve the existing ones to repair them.

Working Conditions

Although astronauts are by definition supposed to fly into space, most of their job takes place down on Earth. All astronauts receive extensive training that might take many years. In fact, some of them don’t get to fly to space ever due to the postponement of mission or health complications that can emerge at any time.

Teamwork is an essential component of astronaut profession. The environment of space is extremely hostile, and task that each astronaut is expected to perform is also wide and varied. Astronauts spend countless hours in practicing in a big swimming pool where the near zero gravity environment is being simulated. The training is often physically and mentally demanding. While in the training mode astronauts might expect to work 40-hour workweeks, as the launch date approaches, working days can become much longer.

While on the ISS, astronauts must adapt to the cramped environment of the space station. Weightlessness presents many practical problems such as eating – astronauts must eat specially designed, dehydrated food stored in plastic packaging. While sleeping, astronauts fasten themselves with straps to a bed to prevent floating away. Daily activities on the space station are organized in shifts – but because the ISS circles the Earth 16 times a day (which equals 16 sunrises), the Earth time for them is irrelevant.

When working outside of the space station, whether installing or repairing components of the station, astronauts wear spacesuits to protect them from the hostile environment of space.


Commander is always a trained spacecraft pilot and is responsible for smooth conduct of all operations on ISS including supervision of other astronauts.

Flight engineers install new components on the ISS and repair the existing ones. To do this, they perform spacewalks or operate robotic arms from the inside. They also operate the robotic arm during the docking procedure – when a capsule launched from the Earth approaches and connects to the ISS.

Science officers, a secondary title for flight engineers, conduct various science experiments and report their findings back on Earth.

Education and Training

Future astronauts should take as many mathematics, physics, biology or chemistry courses as possible. Since astronauts must be highly skilled communicators, you should sufficiently focus on English or speech. All U.S. astronauts are also required to speak Russian since they conduct their missions together with Russian astronauts. Although astronauts are taught Russian during their training, learning the language in advance can only be beneficial.

The minimum requirement for astronauts is possession of U.S. citizenship and a bachelor’s degree in engineering, biology, mathematics or physics, as well as relevant working experience. Due to the scientific nature of astronauts‘ work, advanced degrees in relevant fields are often preferred.

Training and evaluation of astronauts take approximately two years, during which they undertake extensive training including scuba diving, water survival training, training in altitude chambers, flights that simulate microgravity, training in ISS simulators and learning Russian. Pilots are required to maintain their skills by logging 15 flight hours per month.

Astronauts must be well prepared for any situation during the mission, and they spend considerable time on theoretical preparation. Classes include meteorology, navigation, orbital mechanics, physics or medicine. They spend a lot of time preparing for various emergencies and are trained to react to them in a calm way. Needless to say, they must also possess good knowledge of their body and how it reacts in various stress scenarios.


Astronaut pilots must have flown at least 1,000 hours in jet aircraft as a pilot-in-command. Test flight experience is strongly preferred. Their sight must be correctable to 20/20 in each eye; blood pressure must not exceed 140/90 in a sitting position. Body height must be between 62 and 75 inches.

Mission Specialist must have sight correctable to 20/20 in each eye; blood pressure must not exceed 140/90 in a sitting position, and their height should be between 58.5 and 76 inches.

Further Reading

NASA: Astronauts

Apply for Astronaut:

Quora: What is the easiest way to become an astronaut?


Vault Guide to Space Exploration Jobs

Space Careers by Leonard David and Scott Sacknoff

Information about salaries and various job data: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Image Credits: NASA

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