If you've been dreaming of being an astronaut, now's your chance to see if you have, you know, "the right stuff."
On Monday NASA opened up its online application program. Would-be astronauts will have until February 18 to submit their applications for the program.
In typical NASA fashion, the space agency posted the job description on usajobs.gov and the listed job requirements totally cracked us up, since it warned that NASA officials will be background checking the hell out of you, that they totally do drug tests, that you have to be medically healthy enough to pass a pre-employment exam before they'll even consider you and you have to give NASA a full financial disclosure (we're guessing this requirement is so that they'll know who to look to for a loan the next time the federal government takes a whack at their budget). And in the understatement of the year, NASA explained that with this job "frequent travel may be required."
However, NASA doesn't undersell this particular moment in space travel history in the least. In fact, NASA makes it sound really good, maybe even a little better than it actually is, talking about how today "more new human spacecraft are in development in the United States than at any time in history" and how astronaut candidates will have the chance to, you know, boldly go where no one has gone before. The form quickly outlined all the stuff that wanna-be NASA astronauts may get to do if accepted as astronaut candidates:
"The next class of astronauts may fly on any of four different U.S. spacecraft during their careers: the International Space Station, two new commercial spacecraft being built by U.S. companies, and NASA's Orion deep-space exploration vehicle.NASA is in the midst of an unprecedented transition to using commercial spacecraft for its scheduled crew and cargo transport to the ISS. For the last 15 years, humans have been living continuously aboard the orbiting laboratory, expanding scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies. Future crewmembers will continue this work.
Additionally, the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, now in development, will launch astronauts on missions to the proving ground of lunar orbit where NASA will learn to conduct complex operations in a deep space environment before moving on to longer duration missions on the journey to Mars."
Sure, the posting neglects to mention that we currently have no way of getting astronauts to space from U.S. soil — or that we've been getting very expensive rides with the Russians since the since the shuttle program ended a few years ago — and it doesn't really linger on the many uncertainties surrounding this moment in space flight. For one thing, the job posting talks in glowing terms about how NASA is in the midst of an "unprecedented transition to using commercial spaceflight" without even hinting that so far the unmanned commercial space program hasn't exactly gone off without a hitch. (Last year both SpaceX and Orbital saw their rockets launches turn into very expensive displays of fireworks after the rockets exploded in two separate incidents.)
NASA's pitch also fails to mention that all of the plans for the future — ditching the ISS and focusing on cislunar space (the space around the moon), on lassoing an asteroid and eventually getting to Mars — will only happen if the federal government keeps invested in funding NASA. If someone gets elected to the White House who isn't into the whole space exploration thing, the NASA budget could be hacked to pieces and with it any chance of getting to the Red Planet or even getting anywhere near our own moon.
Aside from the questions about the NASA's future, funding-wise, keep in mind that the odds of even being accepted into NASA's astronaut candidate school are incredibly slim. Since the first seven candidates were accepted for Project Mercury in 1959 there have only been 339 astronaut candidates total. The last time NASA issued a call for interested wanna-be astronauts to apply, in 2011, the federal space agency was inundated with more than 6,000 applications, the second largest batch NASA had ever received.
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Plus, the requirements to become an astronaut range from the super obvious to the slightly odd. You have to have 20/20 vision, with blood pressure that doesn't go over 140/90 when seated and you must be between 62 inches to 75 inches tall. You also must be an American citizen and you have to have a bachelor's degree in either engineering, biological science, physical science or math. Those with space dreams and English Literature degrees need not apply.
Also, it's best to keep in mind that this won't be a brisk process where you fill out a form on Wednesday and by Saturday you're strapped to a spacecraft atop a rocket about to blast off into the glittering void. The people who applied in 2011 didn't even start training until 2013 and the eight candidates who finished their training just completed it last July.
NASA will review the 2015 applicants and then announce who made the cut in spring 2017. From there it'll be two to three years before the astronaut candidates who go through the training, which will start in the spring of 2017 at Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, actually become astronauts. Since NASA is still bumming expensive rides to the ISS with the Russians as of today, it's been noted that speaking Russian might help some applications stand out. And maybe it will, or maybe astronauts will finally be getting to the International Space Station and the rest of space from U.S. soil once more by then. Fingers crossed.
Either way, for the time being, if you've always wanted to be an astronaut, now is the time — if you fit all the requirements and would be okay with a job that, you know, requires a lot of travel, as NASA so blandly explained it — to put yourself out there. And if you want to set yourself apart from the crowd go ahead and brush up on your Russian. The plan is to be relying on commercial space transportation within the next few years, but as we all know plans can change.