Seeking a job at NASA? This is what you're signing up for


New Delhi: NASA is an entity that is synonymous with everything related to space. A pioneer in space research, NASA, today, is one of the leading establishments when it comes to aerospace.

With many missions currently in operation, NASA has a lot more in store – including the highly anticipated Mars mission.

Keeping that in mind, the space agency will undoubtedly be seeking more hands on board, which can translated into ‘more manpower’.

However, becoming a NASA employee isn’t exactly easy. Recently, when NASA was looking for a new class of astronauts, only 12 were selected from a whopping 18,300 applicants.

With that, it is understood that getting a job with NASA isn’t a walk in the park, unless you’re truly passionate about what you do and know what you’re signing up for.

So let’s get a better understanding of how the hiring process at NASA works.

First things first: How does one qualify for a job at NASA?

According to CNNMoney, who spoke to Donald Pettit, a 62-year-old NASA astronaut and Greg Johnson, a former astronaut and now president of the Center for Advancement of Science in Space, applicants must be graduates in a field of science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Furthermore, post graduation and work experience or at least a thousand hours worth of experience in flying jets are mandatory parameters for selection.

“Astronaut candidates must also have skills in leadership, teamwork and communications,” NASA says on its website.

The qualifications of the perfect candidate also includes a physical demand – He/she should have good eyesight, must be between 5ft 2 and 6ft 3, and should have a good, normal blood pressure, which should not exceed 140/90 when seated.

Next up, applicants will be put through an endurance test – which needless to say, will be quite difficult – along with a series of interviews.

“It’s a very special opportunity,” Johnson said. He advised the next class of astronaut candidates to “take advantage of it” because “for each astronaut, there’s 100 behind us equally qualified,” reports CNNMoney in their interview.

Going forward…

If you passed all the above criteria, well done! But, this is far from over – you have a massive 2-year training and evaluation period coming up.

“It’s like getting a full four-year college degree compressed into two years,” Pettit said. “There’s no summer breaks.”

This training will allow you to learn skills that one requires during an actual mission. The tasks which you will be subjected to include:

  • Swimming laps in a 25-meter pool and treading water for 10 minutes while wearing a flight suit and tennis shoes.
  • Getting a SCUBA certification, which is important for when you’re in space, since underwater environment is actually similar to the vacuum of space.
  • Riding a jet aircraft, mimicking zero-gravity environment in space. Trainees may have to take at least 40 such rides in a single day.
  • Learning the Russian language – communication is key and you need to be able to interact with the Russian cosmonauts at the space station and during launch.

Like the spacesuits? Well, you’ll get your chance to familiarise yourself and get comfortable with the heavy, bulky and puffy space gear. Here’s a warning – they are hot, uncomfortable and you have to crawl out of them to get them off.

When do you step into space?

If you’re thinking you’re ready for that step, you have another think coming. Stage two of training was merely another step forward, but NASA has a lot more where that came from – you still have to complete another level of space-specific training.

This stage involves everything you would be doing in space. The training starts months before you even head to the cockpit with your space suit on. For just a six-month stint at the space station, be prepared to go through an extra 2/3-year-long training.

NOW do you get to go to space?

Excited, are we? Settle down, there are still experiments to be conducted, researches to be carried out and hardware reparation lessons for when you’re on the space station. According to Pettit, during his missions, he would get just a day off per week during his six-month mission at the ISS.

Congratulations! You’re now NASA-approved. But what’s the pay like?

A question that haunts everyone when they’re about to get hired – astronauts too. However, in the words of Pettit, who’s been an astronaut for two decades, “Nobody gets rich”.

Annual salaries for astronauts are anywhere between $66,000 to $144,500 per annum. This amounts to approximately INR 44.2 lakhs to INR 1 crore. Experienced astronauts make a little more than a crore, depending on the rank and experience.

However, just to clear the air, NASA is quite firm about an astronaut’s salary. It has a policy of no personal financial gain and their rules are pretty strict.

Once onboard, you cannot write books, charge for public speaking, or even accept gifts from any company. However, as Pettit puts it, once you’re a NASA employee, you won’t have time to do any of those things anyway.



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