Even though there aren’t any American space shuttles left, and we’re not going back to the moon anytime soon, people still want to be astronauts. When NASA announced it was looking for a dozen or so more astronauts to add to its small roster, applications numbered in the thousands. What does it take to have a shot at going to the International Space Station?
The first thing anyone needs is to have a Bachelor’s degree in engineering, physical science, math, or biology. You also need to be a US citizen, have three years in a science field (or 1,000 hours flying a jet), be between 5’’2 and 6’’3, and pass a physical exam. Once that’s done, you go through two years of basic training. Most of that is classroom work, but you do have to pass a swimming test within your first month, as well as swim three lengths of an 82-foot pool wearing a flight suit. After basic training, the best will be chosen to become astronauts and continue training.
The second phase is spending a lot of time in the Virtual Reality Lab, where you practice working with the ISS. Because astronauts now are all generalists because there are no more Space Shuttles, everyone has to know a little of everything. The one thing that hasn’t changed since the old days is the use of the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, a gigantic pool where weightlessness is simulated. Astronauts will spend a lot of their days underwater for at least six hours, practicing moving, repair, and anything else they might do while in zero gravity.
In the last ten months of training, astronauts find out what they’ll be doing in space. Examples of assignments have included studying how the human body adapts to weightlessness, learning more about dark matter, and examining the general stress of space travel. They’ll spend the rest of their time on Earth studying, practicing, and preparing themselves for what can be a trip as short as six months or as long as one year, in the case of American astronaut Scott Kelly.