How To Become an Astronaut

Here's an e-mail I sent to a young high school student with all sorts
of personal opinions expressed. These are MY opinions, and I expect to
be flamed on some of them.


From Tue Oct 29 18:22:13 1996
Date: Tue, 29 Oct 1996 18:19:56 -0500 (EST)
From: Ozzie N4SCY <>
Reply-To: Ozzie N4SCY < > 

To: KMerkel175@
Subject: How to become an Astronaut - OPINIONS

On 1996 October 18, KMerkel175@ wrote:

> The thing i want to know is:
> How can i become an Astronaut.It's been my dream since i was a child,
> and i want to know what i must do when i want to become an
> Astronaut.Please send me your answer.  
> Thanx  
> Meik Dittrich
Hi Meik,

Here's the Official NASA Answer to your question:

> How can I become an Astronaut? 
>    Any adult man or woman in excellent physical condition who  
>    meets the basic qualifications can be selected to enter  
>    astronaut training.  
>    For mission specialists and pilot astronauts, the minimum
>    requirements include a bachelor's degree in engineering, 
>    science or mathematics from an accredited institution. Three
>    years of related experience must follow the degree, and an  
>    advanced degree is desirable. Pilot astronauts must have at 
>    least 1,000 hours of experience in jet aircraft, and they need 
>    better vision than mission specialists. Competition is
>    extremely keen, with an average of over 4,000 applicants for
>    about 20 openings every 2 years. 
>    Astronaut recruiting occurs periodically. For more information,
>    write to the Astronaut Selection Office, NASA Johnson Space 
>    Center, Houston,TX 77058.  

Now if I thought this was all you needed to know, then I would just end my message here. After all, these are The Rules. What I suspect you're looking for is ADVICE on how to become an Astronaut. First comes some advice I've got concerning rules:

Cheshire's Law:
You can't break The Rules, but once you know what
they are, you can abuse the heck out of them!

What NASA has said are The Rules for becoming an Astronaut. We have to look at them with a creative eye.

So, lets look at what this means from a practical standpoint. It means you're NOT going to fly on a Falcon or Vulcan in the next week or three. It will mean years of getting enough "experience points" to measure up to the standards NASA has set for the Astronaut Corps. Let's break down what they're telling you:

>    Any adult man or woman in excellent physical condition who  
>    meets the basic qualifications can be selected to enter  
>    astronaut training.  

Hyperlinks used in Ozzie's Lecture at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Get text messages sent to your
cell phone when launch holds and
scrubs occur. Visit the
The Holds Page!

If you would like Ozzie to lecture your group on space related topics, call him at:
(+1 321 543 8633)

Did you ever meet an Astronaut that didn't jog? All it takes is a pair of running shoes, and a route around your neighborhood. DON'T jog without running shoes, because you could hurt your feet without them. (personally, I prefer bike riding, but jogging is what's gets you to that "excellent physical condition" that NASA likes) See? You can start your Astronaut Training Program today!

>    For mission specialists and pilot astronauts, the minimum
>    requirements include a bachelor's degree in engineering, 
>    science or mathematics from an accredited institution. 

OK, this requirement is for BOTH mission specialists (who have the most interesting jobs once the spacecraft acheives orbit), and pilots (who better know something more than just being a "joystick jockey" if they're going to spend a week or two doing more than twidling their thumbs).

>                                                        Three
>    years of related experience must follow the degree, and an  
>    advanced degree is desirable. 

So you're going to have to get into the Research Communitty where all that experience comes from. Don't worry here, since there are some really interesting people in the research communitty. These are all the folks that Bill Nye (The Science Guy) talks to all the time. The trick here is to pick an area that you're interested in anyway, so all this research you're going to be doing looks like work to someone else, but is fun for you. We're going to need all sorts of people experimenting on board the International Space Station. If you're leaning towards the Mars Landing missions, though, you might look into the areas of geology and chemistry so you can analyze what's found there.

>                                 Pilot astronauts must have at 
>    least 1,000 hours of experience in jet aircraft, and they need 
>    better vision than mission specialists. 

When reading the rules, you don't necessarily follow them in the order given. Here, check the "vision" criteria first. If you're already wearing glasses, look at the research road, because pilots need to see better than that. But if you can see OK, this means that IF you're going to get "behind the stick" of a Spacecraft, you're going to have to join a Military Aviation program - the only place a young person can find "stick time" behind the joystick of a jet. Start looking at those recruiting posters with a new eye.

Remember that to get into a Military Acadamy (a route that meets the Jet Jockey requirements, AND gets you through the college requirements - ABUSE those rules!), you need to get a recommendation from a Congressman or a Senator (go find out from your school guidence councilor what the rules for admission are).

Do you live near an airport? Is there a chapter of the Civil Air Patrol nearby? This civilian auxiliary of the US Air Force provides Search and Rescue services using private aircraft, and are always happy to have a young cadet around to help out, and start to learn their way around an aircraft. Many Air Force Acadamy Cadets reach Colorado Springs with small aircraft experience and even a Pilot's License thanks to the Civil Air Patrol. I suspect that even Annapolis would smile on a Midshipman with this sort of experience.

>                                            Competition is
>    extremely keen, with an average of over 4,000 applicants for
>    about 20 openings every 2 years. 

But you know what? Many of today's Astronauts were not only part of the other 3,980 applicants, they were part of that group a number of times! They kept applying. Perserverance is an admirable trait in an Astronaut Candidate, and it's encouraged.

Does this make us look like we're setting out with a "conspiratorial" plan to get us where we want to go (like Space)? Well, it is. If you're going to get there, it will take LOTS of planning, and some hard work to make the plan work. The trick is to make the work seem like fun by finding fun, interesting people to work WITH.

Meik, let's take a minute to look at the every day tasks of an Astronaut. I live down here, and I've met some of them, and I have a few of my own unprofessional obervations of what a NASA Astronaut is like. First off, they're just people. They really are just like you and me. But they are a little pickier than most people. They tend to be fanatical about things being "just right". This is because you can't just pop out to the local drug store if you forgot to pack enough film for the camera, or M&M's for snacking on.

Not only that, but there is an interesting sidelight that I always liked in a science fiction novel ("Protector" by Larry Niven) in which the fellow from Earth is visting the Astroids, and is surprised that everything in his hotel room (like the air conditioning, elevators, and support equipment) works and is maintained, "as if someone's life depended on it".

ASCAN (Astronaut Candidate)
(Meant to be humourous, but like most humor conatins the ring of truth)

1. Keep smiling, but not grinning

2. Keep your humor harmless, pure and perfect. People don't understand irony.

3. Keep your weaknesses to yourself. If you don't point them out to others, they will never see them.

4. Never complain; make survival look easy.

5. You are expected to say something nice after each flight, class, or simulation.

6. If you can't say something nice, lie -- nicely.

7. In particular, practice saying, "Thanks for pointing that out, sir. I'll really work on that."

8. Be aggressively humble and dynamically inconspicuous. Save your brilliance for your friends and family.

9. Remember -- whatever's encouraged is mandatory. Whatever's discouraged is prohibited.

10. Nothing is sometimes a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.


Ordinary people don't think about it, but "Spacers" (to use the Niven term for people who live outside Earth's atmosphere) actually have their lives on the line every time they rely on their equipment to protect them from the nastiness of Space. NASA's Astronauts are no less fanatical about making sure the equipment they take up with them is working, and will work the way it's supposed to. Of course, some of it always goes wrong, and that only bolsters the idea that you can't just send robots up, but have to have people along who can fix things that go wrong.

You know, reading science fiction books is a good idea, too. Some of it gives you ideas as to what it would be like. Much of the stuff that inspired both the past and current generations of Astronauts is now hopelessly out of date. Our recent scientific discoveries since the books were written mean that farmers really couldn't grow crops on Jupiter`s moon of Ganymede ("Farmer In The Sky" by Robert A Heinlein), or build robots with positronic brains to mine the moons of Saturn ("I Robot" by Isaac Asimov), but many are still available in school and public libraries, and are good places to look for fun things to read about space. "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel" by Robert Heinlein was always one of my favorites. Remind me to tell you some time about the Spacesuit Sale I went to in 1975.

Another route to the Spaceways is (believe it or not) joining the scouts. There are a number of merit badges that will teach you about space science, and you can get ahead of the training they give you at Houston if you are already familiar with Astronomy, and (of all things) Morse Code.

Yes, Morse Code is a VERY outdated technology, but it lets you get a Ham Radio License (Actually, since this file was first created, Morse Code is no longer required for any level of ham license). Ham radio, besides being a great way to meet techniclly oriented people, is a hobby you can take with you for long stays aboard the International Space Station (which should be operating by the time you're ready to suit up, and strap in). As I write this in October of 1996, I had my radio on 145.550 MHz, and heard John Blaha KC5TPQ on my 2 meter ham radio talking to someone on the ground as he went overhead aboard the Mir Space Station. You can join AMSAT, the Amateur Satellite organization, and play with space satellites from your home! (I joined long before I got my ham license) Not only that, but Ham Radio is one of the few hobbies you can take up with you into orbit.

Radio communications and procedures are very important, and are another thing you can start learning before you get to Astronaut School in Houston. Ham radio comes in handy here, as well as in an airplane cockpit, where the International Phonetic Alphabet is the same one used by pilots, ham operators, the military, and NASA. That's the "Alpha, Bravo, Charlie" alphabet, so you can spell out words over a scratchy radio channel. My name, Ozzie, would be spelled "Oscar Zulu Zulu India Echo". I already knew the phonetic alphabet when I went into the Army. It didn't get me any "brownie points" with my sergeant, but I was able to help my buddies with it when they had problems.

Helping your buddies is another good trait in an Astronaut. After all, you all have to work together to make the program work. And if things go right, you'll be cooped up with very few people for a very long time on a space mission. You need to be the kind of person that gets along well with other people in close quarters.

And speaking of working together to make the program work, the way Congress is trying to cut back on the program, EVERYONE has to make sure the space program works! Yes, let's get back to the politicians again for a moment. Write letters, and let your Congessman, and BOTH your Senators know that you are interested in the Space Program, and you hope they will vote in favor of it. From their replies, you might figure out which one to help in the next election. You might even want to check with their opponents if they are not voting for the program! These are the way the rules in our country work.

So lets look again at what you can start doing today to have skills you'll need as an astronaut in the future:

Oops, almost forgot that last one. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics is the technical society of aerospace engineers. Call them at 1-800-639-2422 and ask them to send you a Student Membership packet. Find out if there is a Student Chapter of AIAA (pronounced A, I, Double A) at a college near you, then call and find out when they have meetings. Even if you are not a student of the college itself, as a fellow member of the AIAA, they'll be glad to have you attend their meetings.

What you'll find is that if you show an interest, people will be happy to have you hang around and learn what you can. And remember, While I'll eventually want a patch from your first space mission, I really want a patch from your Astronaut Class in Houston! Good luck,

     Ozzie N4SCY

Robert Osband       +1 321 543-8633 (321-Liftoff)
PO Box 321         mailto:Ozzie@SpaceyIdeas.Com
Titusville  FL    321 is MY Area Code!
USA  32781          http://SpaceyIdeas.Com           I asked for it, they
                                                     approved it, so it's 
                  Originator of the Idea that        MINE, right? (But I
              "The Countdown Capitol of the World"   share)
                   Should Get AREA CODE 3-2-1


Learn Russian!

If you want to fly on board the International Space Station, You'll probebly have to work with our Russian partners. This means communicating with them. If you start learning Russian when you're younger, it will be easier to pick up, and will stand you in very good stead come selection time IMHO (In My Humble Opinion). Do you play a musical instrument? Guitar is good, since you can play it, as well as sing at the same time. Another good hobby to take into orbit with you - especially if you're planning on a long duration mission. What do you know about soccer - especially at the International level? You're going to need something to talk about with those astronauts from other nations. It's a good "common subject" to bone up on. Ozzie 2000-01-24 This doc: http://SpaceyIdeas.Com/astronaut.html

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