NASA To Begin Hunt For New Astronauts
October 4, 2011

NASA To Begin Hunt For New Astronauts

NASA announced that it will soon be seeking applicants for its next class of potential astronauts to partake in long-duration missions to the International Space Station (ISS) and future deep space flights. 

The application process will effectively open in early November, marking a new age in space missions after the retirement of the decades-old space shuttle program earlier this summer.

Even though the shuttle will never fly again, and astronauts now having to rely on Russia to get to the ISS for at least the next three years, it takes years to train a new breed of spacemen and get them into rotation.

The selection process for new astronaut candidates will take about 18 months, and the next wave of NASA-trained astronauts could find themselves among the first visitors to a near-Earth asteroid by the middle of the next decade.

To qualify for consideration to become one of NASA´s next candidates, applicants need a bachelor´s degree in engineering, science or math and three years of relevant professional experience. In the past, successful applicants had significant qualifications in engineering or science, or extensive experience flying high-performance jet-aircraft.

Once all applicant interviews and evaluations have been completed, NASA expects to announce final selections for its next line of astronauts sometime in early 2013. Training would most likely begin in August of that year.

“For scientists, engineers and other professionals who have always dreamed of experiencing spaceflight, this is an exciting time to join the astronaut corps,” Janet Kavandi, director of flight crew operations at NASA´s Johnson Space Center, said in an announcement. “This next class will support missions to the station and will arrive via transportation systems now in development. They also will have the opportunity to participate in NASA's continuing exploration programs that will include missions beyond low Earth orbit.”

Duane Ross, NASA´s astronaut candidate programs manager, said NASA was still working on the detailed timeline for the application selection process, but when the agency makes its decision, there will be a link posted on the space agency´s astronaut selection website:

It is too early to know how many candidates will be chosen this go-around. But it could go much the same way as it did back in 2009, the last time NASA selected a new class of astronauts. Nearly 3,500 people applied and about 110 were selected for further review, and in the end, nine Americans were selected to join NASA´s team. They were joined by ten others from Canada, Europe and Japan.

It is possible that NASA could choose between 8 and 12 candidates in the latest selection process. But, “it´s not going to be a big number,” said Ross.

NASA´s announcement comes less than a month after a report from the National Research Council warned that NASA may not have enough astronauts to meet the demands of future space missions to the ISS and beyond. The report noted that NASA had 150 astronauts in 1999, but only 61 active-duty in 2011. The exodus was accelerated mainly due to the shuttle retirement this year.

When the 2009 candidates were being selected, the agency already knew they would never fly on the space shuttle, so the selection criteria were modified to focus on requirements for long-duration space station missions.

“The mission hasn´t changed since last time,” Ross said. “The key things we´ll be looking for is evidence that folks can come in and work in an operational environment.” That means you won´t necessarily need experience in the cockpit to apply.

Those who are selected will have to give up their old job and relocate to Houston, Texas. The annual salaries for civilians range from $64,724 to $155,500 (GS-11 to GS-14 on the federal civil-service pay scale), and travel will be required at times.

But, it is reasonable to say, that if you have already thought of applying, these few considerations will most likely not matter much to you.