With a combination of luck, skill and elbow grease, trainees that pass the rigorous program are selected as NASA astronaut candidates and then go on to graduate from the basic training process.
OK, so what happens then? Well, most won't actually be eligible to go up into space until the administration assigns them to their first mission. Then, they have to complete even more specialized training to prepare themselves for the journey. A rookie space traveler will generally embark upon his or her maiden voyage with a couple of veteran astronauts who double as his or her advisers [source: NASA].
Recent graduates of the basic training process may not receive their first mission assignment for a couple of years. During this so-called pre-assignment phase, most astronauts perform Earth-bound jobs like collaborating with their space program's engineers or serving as foreign liaisons. Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger finished her general NASA training in 2006 but didn't venture into Earth's orbit until 2010. For those now going through a pre-assignment period, she recommends finding time to refresh your astronaut skill set [source: Metcalf-Lindenburger].
Over at the ESA, Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang spent 14 years in limbo before he was finally put on his first mission. On the other hand, Luca Parmitano of Italy managed to secure an assignment from the agency before he'd even finished basic training [source: Peake].
Author's Note: 10 Surprising Facts About Astronaut Training
I will never forget the story my mother told me about the Apollo 11 landing. In the summer of 1969, she was 9 years old and had been enrolled in a summer camp (I think it was somewhere in upstate New York). For the sake of natural serenity, the staff prohibited television sets. But that ban was lifted on the night of July 20, 1969. Sitting in a crowded mess hall, the campers watched Neil Armstrong's "one small step" through a black-and-white TV screen. Human progress was being made in real time. My mom remembers walking back to her cabin after the broadcast. She also remembers looking up at the moon in a starry, cloudless sky and thinking "Wow, there are people up there." That's why astronauts have the most coveted careers in the world. And that's why I wanted to write this article.
More Great Links
- Anderson, Clayton C. "The Ordinary Spaceman: From Boyhood Dreams to Astronaut."University of Nebraska Press. 2015.
- Brown, Heather. "Good Question: How Many People Have Gone to Space?" CBS Minnesota. March 2, 2016. (March 19, 2018.) http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2016/03/02/good-question-astronauts/
- Clement, Gilles. "Fundamentals of Space Medicine." Springer Press. 2005.
- Davis, Neil F. Images of America: Meteor Crater. Arcadia Publishing. 2016.
- Discovery. "How Did Michael Phelps' Swim Cap End Up in Space?" July 20, 2017. (March 19, 2018.) http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/shark-week/shark-feed/how-did-michael-phelps-swim-cap-end-up-in-space/
- Howell, Elizabeth. "Want to Be an Astronaut? Learn How to Speak Russian." Universe Today. April 8, 2013. (March 19, 2018.) https://www.universetoday.com/101302/want-to-be-an-astronaut-learn-how-to-speak-russian/
- Industrial Equipment News. "Astronauts Practice On Giant Air Hockey Tables." August 26, 2016. (March 19, 2018.) https://www.ien.com/product-development/video/20831889/astronauts-practice-on-giant-air-hockey-table
- Izadi, Elahe. "An Astronaut's Surprisingly Helpful Guide to Pooping in Space." The Washington Post. May 15, 2015. (March 19, 2018.) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2015/05/15/an-astronauts-surprisingly-helpful-guide-to-pooping-in-space/?utm_term=.13c5f49679cb
- King, Bob. "How to See Lunar Craters With the Naked Eye." Sky & Telescope. October 28, 2015. (March 19, 2018.) http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/how-to-see-lunar-craters-with-the-naked-eye102820152810/
- Knapton, Sarah. "Hardest Part of Becoming an Astronaut? Learning to Speak Russian, Says Tim Peake." The Telegraph. December 12, 2015. (March 19, 2018.) https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/12046040/Hardest-part-of-becoming-an-astronaut-Learning-Russian-says-Tim-Peake.html
- Lackey, Ryan. "NASA Astronauts at Survival School Highlights Capabilities, Needs." U.S. Air Force. February 14, 2017. (March 19, 2018.) http://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1082968/nasa-astronauts-at-survival-school-highlights-capabilities-needs/
- Massimino, Mike. "Spaceman: An Astronaut's Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe." Three Rivers Press. 2016.
- McKie, Rob. "Why the Soviet Space Workhorse Soyuz is Still Going Strong—50 Years On." The Guardian. December 10, 2016. (March 19, 2018.) https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/dec/11/soyuz-space-fifty-years-old
- McKinnon, Mika. "Before Going to Space, Astronauts Had to Survive the Desert." Gizmodo. May 16, 2014. (March 19, 2018.) https://gizmodo.com/the-mercury-seven-survival-school-1571899242
- Metcalf-Lindenberger, Dottie. "I'm a NASA Astronaut and Here's What it Takes to Become a Space Voyager." Quartz. November 16, 2015. (March 19, 2018.) https://qz.com/549218/im-a-nasa-astronaut-and-heres-what-it-takes-to-become-a-space-voyager/
- NASA. "Air Bearing Floor." (March 19, 2018.) https://www.nasa.gov/centers/johnson/engineering/integrated_environments/air_bearing_floor/index.html
- NASA. "'As the Stomach Turns' On the KC-135." October 16, 2003. (March 19, 2018.) https://www.nasa.gov/missions/research/kc135.html
- NASA. "Astronaut Requirements." June 21, 2017. (March 19, 2018.) https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/postsecondary/features/F_Astronaut_Requirements.html
- NASA. "Astronauts in Training." May 27, 2004. (March 19, 2018.) https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/5-8/features/F_Astronauts_in_Training.html
- NASA. "Astronauts Take a Dive." May 20, 2004. (March 19, 2018.) https://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/9-12/features/F_Astronauts_Take_Dive.html
- NASA. "Frequently Asked Questions." (March 19, 2018.) https://astronauts.nasa.gov/content/faq.htm
- NASA. "Johnson Space Center: Training for Space—Astronaut Training and Mission Preparation." March 11, 2006. (March 19, 2018.) https://www.nasa.gov/centers/johnson/pdf/160410main_space_training_fact_sheet.pdf
- NASA. "Oct. 29, 1998—John Glenn Returns to Space." March 20, 2008. (March 19, 2018.) https://www.nasa.gov/centers/glenn/about/bios/shuttle_mission.html
- NASA. "Soyuz Launch Preparation." September 25, 2013. (March 19, 2018.) https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/elements/soyuz/launch.html
- NASA. "Why Does the Moon Have Craters?" (March 19, 2018.) https://spaceplace.nasa.gov/craters/en/
- NASA. "Zero-Gravity Plane on Final Flight." October 29, 2004. (March 19, 2018.) https://www.nasa.gov/vision/space/preparingtravel/kc135onfinal.html
- National Center for Education Statistics. "Overview of Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts: School Year 1999-2000." September 2001. (March 19, 2018.) https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2001/overview/table05.asp
- Northern Arizona University. "Apollo Lunar Training." 2010. (March 19, 2018.) http://library.nau.edu/speccoll/exhibits/daysofarchives/lunar.html
- Peake, Tim. "Ask an Astronaut: My Guide to Life in Space." Little, Brown and Company. 2017.
- Rowan, Karen. "Space Potty Training Secrets Revealed by Astronauts." Space.com. May 21, 2010. (March 19, 2018.) https://www.space.com/8465-space-potty-training-secrets-revealed-astronauts.html
- Shayler, David J. "Walking in Space: Development of Space-Walking Techniques." Springer Praxis Books. 2004.
- Terdiman, Daniel. "How NASA Trains Astronauts 40 Feet Underwater." CNET. July 6, 2014. (March 19, 2018.) https://www.cnet.com/news/how-nasa-trains-astronauts-40-feet-under-water/
- University of Maryland. "UMBD Only College Campus With Neutral Buoyancy Tank for Future Astronauts (WUSA9)." April 9, 2018. (March 19, 2018.) https://www.umdrightnow.umd.edu/umd-only-college-campus-neutral-buoyancy-tank-future-astronauts-wusa9
- Wagener, Leon. "One Giant Leap: Neil Armstrong's Stellar American Journey." Forge Books. 2004. (March 19, 2018.)
- Ward, Marguerite. "Meet the 12 Americans Training to be NASA's Newest Astronauts." CNBC. June 14, 2017. (March 19, 2018.) https://finance.yahoo.com/news/meet-12-americans-training-nasa-173504621.html
- Wattles, Jackie. "Want a Job as a NASA Astronaut? Read This." CNN Tech. September 17, 2017. (March 19, 2017.) http://money.cnn.com/2017/09/17/technology/business/nasa-astronaut-pay-training/index.html
- Ziv, Stav. "Want to Be an Astronaut? NASA Is More Selective Than Any Top College." Newsweek. June 7, 2017. (March 19, 2018.) http://www.newsweek.com/how-nasa-chooses-new-astronauts-621235
What goes up must come down, including space junk. Most ends up in a watery grave in the Pacific. Learn more about this cemetery at HowStuffWorks.