Education and Training Requirements

High School

High school students interested in a career as an astronaut should follow a regular college preparatory curriculum in high school but should endeavor to take as much work as possible in mathematics and science (biology, chemistry, physics). Other important classes include computer science, English, and speech. NASA requires its astronauts to be proficient in Russian in order to work with Russian astronauts (or “cosmonauts” as they are known in Russia) on the International Space Station. Although this training is provided to astronaut candidates, it wouldn’t hurt to take Russian if it is available.

Preparing to get into a good college is important, because NASA takes into consideration the caliber of a college program when accepting astronaut candidates. Earning the best possible score on standardized tests (ACT or SAT) will also help you get into a good college program.

Postsecondary Training

Any adult man or woman in excellent physical condition who meets the basic qualifications can be selected to enter astronaut training, according to NASA. The basic requirements are U.S. citizenship, a minimum of a bachelor's degree in engineering, biological or physical science, or mathematics, and work experience.

Astronaut candidates undergo a training and evaluation period that lasts about two years. During this time, they participate in the basic astronaut candidate training program, which includes military water survival training, space walk training (which requires SCUBA certificate beforehand), swimming tests, exposure to high and low atmospheric pressures in altitude chambers, exposure to the microgravity of space flight in modified jet aircraft, extravehicular activity skills training, International Space Station systems training, robotics skills training, aircraft flight readiness training, and Russian language training. Astronauts who are pilots maintain their flight proficiency by flying 15 hours per month.

Astronaut training includes instruction in all aspects of space flight and consists of classroom instruction in astronomy, astrophysics, meteorology, star navigation, communications, computer theory, rocket engines and fuels, orbital mechanics, heat transfer, and space medicine. Laboratory work will include work in space flight simulators during which many of the actual characteristics of space flight are simulated along with some of the emergencies that may occur in flight. To ensure their safety while in flight, astronauts also learn to adjust to changes in air pressure and extreme heat and observe their physical and psychological reactions to these changes. They need to be prepared to respond to a variety of possible circumstances.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

No certification or licensing is required.

Other Requirements

There is no age limit, but all candidates must pass the NASA long-duration space flight physical, which includes the following requirements: "visual acuity must be correctable to 20/20 in each eye; blood pressure not to exceed 140/90 measured in a sitting position; and the candidate must have a standing height between 62 and 75 inches." 

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

According to NASA, astronaut candidates must have “at least three years of related, progressively responsible, professional experience or at least 1,000 hours of pilot in-command time in jet aircraft.” Advanced degrees can take the place of part or all of the work experience requirements.

Astronauts must be highly trained, skilled professionals with a tremendous desire to learn about outer space and to participate in the highly dangerous exploration of it. They must have a deep curiosity with extremely fine and quick reactions. They may have to react in emergency conditions that may never before have been experienced, and to do so they must be able to remain calm and to think quickly and logically. As individuals they must be able to respond intelligently to strange and different conditions and circumstances.