Q: Mr. Hickam, I've decided to become an astronaut. Can you give me any advice on how to reach my dream?
A: Becoming an astronaut is the dream of many young people who are interested in space.
It is a great goal, but I would suggest that a better one is to want to become a part of the space program, rather than focus on only one job.
There are only about 200 astronauts presently with NASA, but there are hundreds of thousands of exciting, interesting jobs in the space industry.
These jobs are mostly for engineers, scientists, and other technical professional people, but also are available for those in administrative, communications, resources, and other arenas.
I also happen to believe that by the time many of the young people who are interested in space become adults that the astronaut corps as we know it will be part of history, sort of like the old government mail carrier pilots.
Once space is opened up to all of us, there will be no need for the small, professional corps of NASA astronauts presently located in Houston, Texas.
So don't make your goals so narrow!
Plan on becoming a mission controller, a training manager, a propulsion engineer, a spacecraft designer, or any of a thousand jobs.
Your position will be just as important as an astronaut, and you will love every day you go to work.
Now, with all that said, let's take a look at the present requirements to be a NASA astronaut.
Every astronaut needs to have a college degree in one of these areas: math, physical science (such as physics or chemistry), biological science or engineering. There are two types of NASA astronauts: pilots and mission specialists. Pilots are usually former or current military jet pilots. Test pilots are preferred. Mission specialists are scientists or engineers who will operate the experiments in space. It helps to have an advanced degree (a masters degree or a doctorate) in math, science, medicine, or engineering. You have to be in good physical shape, too. Typically, there are hundreds of applicants for every astronaut position available, so the competition is fierce.
So there you are. But I hope when you grow up, if you want to go into space, all you'll need to do is buy a ticket!
- AIM HIGH!