Astronaut School

What does it take to become an astronaut?

By Elizabeth Preston, Cricket Media

When Anne McClain found out she was going to be an astronaut, she couldn’t wait to call home. Her mom was outside gardening, and when she heard the news, “She screamed so loud that my stepfather thought that she had injured herself,” says McClain. McClain had wanted to be an astro­naut for as long as she could remember, and now it was really happening!

NASA picks a new group of astronauts every few years. Anyone can apply, but only a few are chosen. In 2013, NASA selected eight—including McClain—out of 6,300 applicants.

Finding new astronauts takes about a year and a half. There are many tests!

First, NASA checks to see if you meet the basic requirements. These are:

• A college degree in science, engineering, or math.

• Three years working as a scientist, engineer, or pilot.

• Good health, with no serious problems. (Glasses are OK!)

• NASA chooses the best candidates for more tests and interviews.

The New Kids

After many rounds of tests, trials, interviews, and medical check-ups, NASA makes its final pick.

Four men and four women were chosen for the astronaut class of 2013. They come from all over the United States. They are doctors, scientists, and pilots. Six are members of the military. Jessica Meir, from Maine, dreamed of being an astronaut since she was five years old. Nick Hague, from Kansas, applied three times before he got in.

Back to School

The new astronaut candidates (or “Ascans”) aren’t real astronauts yet. First, they have to go back to school! They study spacecraft, robotics, and computer programming. They learn Russian, since they might be riding a Russian rocket. They learn how to fix every part of a spacecraft and how to run experiments in space. They’re even taught how to do emergency surgery.

Photo Firsts

An important part of an astronaut’s job is to take pictures and videos—of space, of experiments, and of each other. So astronauts get classes in how to take good pictures. No thumbs in front of the lens!

Float Around

To get used to being weightless, student astronauts take trips on a jet that flies up and down like a roller coaster. Each time the plane takes a plunge, the people on board float for about 20 seconds. (The ride is nicknamed the “Vomit Comet” since it makes some people queasy.)

Solve Problems Together

Astronauts have to be able to think creatively and solve unexpected problems. They also need to work well in teams. So student astronauts go wilderness camping. Out in the woods, they depend on each other to survive—good practice for being out in space.

Swim in Spacesuits

Future astronauts also go to the pool—but not for fun. Being underwater is kind of like moving around in space. So astronauts practice in the world’s largest swimming pool. They put on space suits and practice spacewalks and handling tools underwater. This helps them learn how to move in low gravity.

Fly Jets

Every astronaut has to be able to fly a T-38 jet plane.


Once candidates finish their training, they became full-fledged astronauts and receive their official astronaut pins. Now they’re ready to be assigned to space missions. Once they’ve been to space, they’ll get a gold pin.

A Job for Every Astronaut

Not every astronaut goes to space. Some work in Mission Control, guiding spacecraft and talking to the crew. They test new spacecraft and tools. They help their fellow astronauts train. And they spend a lot of time trying to think of everything that might possibly go wrong on a mission. Then they come up with a plan to fix it. These all go into a big book.

Ready for Space

Nick Hague will be the first of the class of 2013 to go to space—he’s headed to the space station in September 2018. To prepare, Hague has to learn how to use and fix all the equipment he might need on his mission. In his spare time, he studies the science experiments he’ll be working on up in space.

Playing Mars

Some astronauts make pretend trips to space. One group of astronauts recently spent a year living in a small shelter on a lava field in Hawaii, to see what a long Mars mission would feel like. They lived like they would on Mars. They put on spacesuits every time they went outside. They ate space food, recycled all their water, and made their own electricity. All phone calls and email had a 20-minute delay, the time it takes for signals to travel to and from Mars. And no fresh fruit!

NASA isn’t planning to send humans to Mars quite yet—but when they do, you can be sure that, thanks to astronaut school, the astronauts will be ready!

See more at Cricket Media

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Kids Magazine: Astronaut School
Astronaut School
What does it take to become an astronaut?
Kids Magazine
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