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STEM Career Spotlight: Astronaut

Updated: Jun 4, 2023

By Francesca Vidal


Being an astronaut is the dream of almost every little boy and girl. Yet the chance to travel to space is something that most people will never get to experience. Apart from space travel, astronauts are trained to control space shuttles, conduct scientific experiments, repair the International Space Station, and go on spacewalks.


Preparation to become an astronaut can start as early as high school. High school students interested in becoming an astronaut should focus on taking math and science classes. AP Calculus BC, AP Physics, and AP Chemistry are examples of the type of courses that students should take. Having a strong background in STEM as a high schooler can prepare students for the type of classes they will be expected to take in college. Participating in STEM extracurricular activities, such as robotics, Science Olympiad, or math club, is a great way to explore real-world applications of STEM. Additionally, participating in a STEM summer program or conducting research in STEM can help high schoolers gain valuable STEM experiences.


Most aspiring astronauts pursue a bachelor's degree in engineering, science, or math. Because getting hired as an astronaut can be very difficult (NASA reports receiving 18,000 applications for 10 openings) earning good grades in undergraduate is important. All astronauts are required to go to graduate school and earn a master’s degree in a STEM subject. Afterward, they need to acquire more than 1,000 hours as a pilot or a pilot-in-command on a jet. While most people fulfill this requirement by joining the Air Force, flying commercial planes or private planes with supervision can allow astronauts to gain flight experience.


Being fit and exercising regularly are equally as important as knowing how to fly an aircraft. After acquiring a master’s degree and 1,000 flight hours, astronauts can apply to NASA’s candidate selection. In this selective application process, applicants can expect to have their applications extensively reviewed and be required to attend an interview. Those who are selected as Astronaut Candidates undergo two years of intense physical training, evaluations, and instructional learning. Candidates are finally chosen to be astronauts based on their evaluations from the training program.


Despite the long path future astronauts must endure, being an astronaut can be very exciting as astronauts are able to travel to the International Space Station, the moon, and, potentially, mars. In the US, an astronaut can expect to earn anywhere from $66,167 to $161,141, with more experienced astronauts earning higher salaries. However, being an astronaut is not for everyone. Astronauts must have perfect eyesight, be able to work in high-pressure scenarios, be able to emotionally handle the stress of being away from family for months, and be between 58.5 and 76 inches tall. While becoming an astronaut can be grueling, in the end, having the opportunity to travel to space makes the career all but worth it.


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