Adventures in Science

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“WANTED: Astronaut candidates”

*sigh*

The heading of the want ad of your dreams right? Many of us can’t think of a more prestigious job. Adventure! Exploration! Guts! Glory!

NASA recently posted just such a want ad for astronaut candidates as seen here. Even though you may not qualify (yet) and the open period to apply ended on midnight EST Friday January 27, 2012, do not despair. NASA will need to train another group of new astronauts every so often. You are bound to see a listing like this again in the future. Until that time, this is your golden opportunity to check out what NASA is looking for in an International Space Station crew member and tailor your study and career goals toward working in space.

WHO MAY BE CONSIDERED:

This announcement is open to all qualified U.S. citizens.

Okay, if you want to work for NASA in this job you have to be a U.S. citizen. However, many other countries have space programs and now there are increasing numbers of commercial space companies that will need astronauts and cosmonauts as well. Having many of the qualifications listed below for the NASA Astronaut Candidate Program will help give you the skills necessary to become an astronaut for a country other than the U.S. or as a commercial astronaut.

This guy could be your astroboss. Vrooooom, Mr. Branson, sir. Vrooooom!

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JOB SUMMARY:

NASA, the world’s leader in space and aeronautics is always seeking outstanding scientists, engineers, and other talented professionals to carry forward the great discovery process that its mission demands. Creativity. Ambition. Teamwork. A sense of daring. And a probing mind. That’s what it takes to join NASA, one of the best places to work in the Federal Government.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has a need for Astronaut Candidates to support the International Space Station (ISS) Program and future deep space exploration activities.

Active duty military personnel are eligible to apply for this position. In addition to applying through USAJobs, active duty military personnel must also submit their application through their respective military service. Military points of contacts can be found at Astronaut Candidate Program.

NASA says they are looking for talented professional people like engineers and scientists. You will need to study science, engineering, and mathematics in school and consider specializing in something in those fields that will be useful as an astronaut. Astrophysics, space medicine, exobiology/astrobiology, and engineering with a specialty in manned space flight are all good suggestions of careers that will make you a desirable astronaut candidate.

Military a plus, but not required. There has been a long tradition of astronauts coming from the military especially the Air Force. Military astronauts have already undergone training to endure and perform under extreme conditions like the ones they will experience as astronauts. Many have flown as high-performance aviators and have worked with cutting-edge technology during their time in the military.

DUTIES:

Astronauts are involved in all aspects of assembly and on-orbit operations of the ISS. This includes extravehicular activities (EVA), robotics operations using the remote manipulator system, experiment operations, and onboard maintenance tasks. Astronauts are required to have a detailed knowledge of the ISS systems, as well as detailed knowledge of the operational characteristics, mission requirements and objectives, and supporting systems and equipment for each experiment on their assigned missions.

In brief, you will be using special equipment to perform experiments and gather scientific data. You need to know how to operate and keep that equipment in good working order. You will know how to maintain *everything* inside and outside the space station that keeps it running normally. (or die)

Long-duration missions aboard the ISS generally last from 3 to 6 months. Training for long duration missions is very arduous and takes approximately 2 to 3 years. This training requires extensive travel, including long periods away in other countries training with our international partners. Travel to and from the ISS will be aboard the Russian Soyuz vehicle. Consequently, astronauts must meet the Soyuz size requirements, as indicated below. Additional information about the position can be found at Astronaut Candidate Program.

Frequent travel may be required. Astronauts are away from home a lot. It can be a drag.

Home

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The book Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach relates the many reasons that being in space is stressful physically, mentally, and socially on astronauts. It’s an eye-opening book that convinced me that I would have made a terrible astronaut. (Let’s just say that I’m easily annoyed.)

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You have to be in good health and in top physical shape to be an astronaut. Our bodies did not evolve to live for months in weightlessness. All of your muscles, including your heart, will atrophy in zero gravity. It’s important to blast off in peak condition. Be prepared to have to work out all of the time for your job.

QUALIFICATIONS REQUIRED:

Applicants must meet the following minimum requirements before submitting an application.

1. Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics. Quality of academic preparation is important.

Notes on Academic Requirements:
Applicants for the Astronaut Candidate Program must meet the basic education requirements for NASA engineering and scientific positions, specifically: successful completion of standard professional curriculum in an accredited college or university leading to at least a bachelor’s degree with major study in an appropriate field of engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics.

The following degree fields are not considered qualifying:
–Degrees in Technology (Engineering Technology, Aviation Technology, Medical Technology, etc.)
–Degrees in Psychology (except for Clinical Psychology, Physiological Psychology, or Experimental Psychology, which are qualifying)
–Degrees in Nursing
–Degrees in Exercise Physiology or similar fields
–Degrees in Social Sciences (Geography, Anthropology, Archaeology, etc.)
–Degrees in Aviation, Aviation Management, or similar fields”

It is great that they included a list of degree fields that they DON’T want. Don’t waste your time with these if your goal is to be a NASA astronaut.

DENIED

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“2. Degree followed by at least 3 years of related, progressively responsible, professional experience OR at least 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. An advanced degree is desirable and may be substituted for experience as follows: master’s degree = 1 year of experience, doctoral degree = 3 years of experience. Teaching experience, including experience at the K – 12 levels, is considered to be qualifying experience for the Astronaut Candidate position; therefore, educators are encouraged to apply.

Over and above the 4-year bachelor degree in the right kind of science, engineering, or mathematics from #1 you must have an additional 3 years of solid professional work in your scientific, engineering, or mathematics field OR have over 1,000 hours experience in piloting jets. In other words, it would be a good plan to get a degree from a good university and then join the air force and fly advanced aircraft. Do you think you can swing that?

You can also continue your education by getting a master’s degree or PhD. However, you are only given credit for 1 year’s worth of experience for a master’s degree. Most people do their masters degree in about 2 years. If after your masters degree you go on to get a doctorate you only get 3 years in experience points. NASA appears to value practical professional success and 1,000 hours of piloting jets over advanced academic degrees.

It looks like if you are a teacher with at least 3 years of teaching kids or teenagers you qualify. However, I’d make sure that you rate in some of the other areas, as well.

IDK...piloting a jet maybe?

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From the above list of criteria it sounds like the impossibly perfect candidate would be a successful engineering entrepreneur with college diploma who sold her company to fly jet fighters for the military for a while, and now teaches high school mathematics.

3. Ability to pass the NASA long-duration space flight physical, which includes the following specific requirements:

Distant and near visual acuity: Must be correctable to 20/20, each eye

The refractive surgical procedures of the eye, PRK and LASIK, are allowed, providing at least 1 year has passed since the date of the procedure with no permanent adverse after effects. For those applicants under final consideration, an operative report on the surgical procedure will be requested.

Blood pressure not to exceed 140/90 measured in a sitting position

Standing height between 62 and 75 inches.

Notes on Space Flight Physical Requirements:
Since all crew members will be expected to fly aboard the Soyuz vehicle and perform Extravehicular Activities (space walks), applicants must meet the anthropometric requirements for both the Soyuz vehicle and the extravehicular activity mobility unit (space suit). Applicants brought in for interview will be evaluated to ensure they meet the anthropometric requirements.

In addition to being an accomplished scientifically-minded professional who is also a jet pilot, you need to be healthy and have good vision. You can’t be shorter than five feet and two inches or taller than six feet and three inches. The Soyuz spacecraft will take someone as short 4’11” per the table  at spaceref.com, so I’m assuming that the minimum of five feet and two inches requirement is necessary to wear a space suit.

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Other criteria from the USAJobs listing are:

  • You will have to pass a swimming test during the first month of training.
  • You must pass periodic drug tests.
  • You must pass a background check.
  • Evaluation and training will take about 2 years before you are an astronaut.
  • If you are male, make sure you register for the draft.

If you still want to be an astronaut after reading NASA’s job listing, I strongly recommend again that you read Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach. The book cuts through the glamor and glory of space exploration to give the reader the day-to-day challenges of the astronaut experience. It’s not all moonwalks and zero gravity hijinks. If you are one of the lucky astronauts ever chosen for a space mission, a good day will be exhausting, dirty, smelly, cramped, dangerous, and sickening. But…you, YOU will be exploring space and it will all be worth it.

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