When children are asked what they want to be when they grow up, “astronaut” is one of the most common responses. And while most of those kids will change their minds as they get older and their interests change, those who still dream of exploring space have a long journey ahead of them.
Though there are new opportunities on the horizon, this field is still highly competitive; NASA applicants have only a 0.6 percent chance of being selected. Young people who want to become an astronaut need to start preparing sooner rather than later for this career. Luckily, there are more resources available now than ever before for people who want to become an astronaut.
According to NASA’s website, the minimum education requirement to become an astronaut is “a bachelor’s degree in engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science, or mathematics.” However, young people will likely need to go on and get a master’s degree or even a PhD. Graduates with a bachelor’s degree will also need exemplary grades and outstanding related work experience to set themselves apart from other applicants.
Whether students choose to major in biology or computer science, they need to take advantage of relevant extracurricular activities and innovative class courses. For example, Dr. Ariel Anbar’s space exploration-based online class at Arizona State University received praise from both NASA and the National Science Foundation for its ability to encourage students to learn about science using problem-solving, logic, and reason. Lessons like these can help students expand their knowledge in new ways and more adequately prepare for a career as an astronaut.
Students should look at the astronauts before them when planning their own careers. Traveling to Mars or the Moon is much different from working onboard the International Space Station while it orbits the Earth. Students who dream of piloting a spacecraft should look at how previous pilots were successful and focus on improving their own abilities.
For women, this may be more difficult — of the 537 people to travel in space, only 60 have been women.This exclusion of women from STEM subjects as a whole has made it significantly harder for them to pursue careers as astronauts. To inspire women to boldly go where few women have gone before, they need to both look up to the women who have already been in space and be encouraged to pursue STEM fields in general.
Aside from education and work experience, NASA notes that “Astronaut candidates must also have skills in leadership, teamwork, and communications.” Considering the job involves spending a significant amount of time in a confined area with other people, astronauts must be able to communicate openly and solve problems as a team.
Unexpected problems can also occur on space missions, ranging from minor to catastrophic, and astronauts must be able to work toward a solution in high-pressure situations. Students need to work on developing their interpersonal and communication skills in addition to effectively prepare for this job.
Finally, students need to be positive and dedicated when pursuing this career. It’s a competitive and difficult field that requires a lot of hard work. As a parting thought, Astronaut Stan Love has some of the best words of wisdom for aspiring astronauts:
Just do what you love doing. That’s what I tried to do. I’ve loved space since I was a little kid. So I earned degrees in physics and astronomy, and worked as a planetary scientist after that. I started exploring the woods behind my house as soon as I was old enough to leave the yard. So when I lived in Seattle I learned to climb mountains, and when I lived in Hawaii I learned to scuba dive.
[…] Now, all of those things were also good for applying to be an astronaut, so I went ahead and included them on my applications. But because I was doing what I loved, I would have been perfectly happy where I was—even if I hadn’t been picked as an astronaut.