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Friday, January 16, 1998 Published at 13:48 GMT


Are you made of the right stuff?
image: [ Nasa astronauts undergo rigorous training after beating off the competition ]
Nasa astronauts undergo rigorous training after beating off the competition

Fancy the excitement of heading off into space? Recruitment for astronaut training is ongoing, but the criteria and competition are tough.

The US Astronaut Selection Board (ASB) fills a mere 20 slots every two years from more than 4,000 applications.

Firstly, in order to be an astronaut (Latin for star sailor) you have to be a US citizen.


When the US space programme began in 1959 there were only seven astronauts in America and they were all serving for former members of the armed forces.

This is no longer the case. The ASB is nowadays on the look out for people who have done well in a technical field.

Specialist experience in areas such as geology, physics, chemistry or biology would stand you in good stead.

A high level of educational achievement is a pre-requisite - candidates need a degree in a mathematics or science-orientated subject to be a mission specialist astronaut but not to be a pilot astronaut for which it is only "desirable".

[ image: Nasa's space shuttle Columbia blasts off (November 1997)]
Nasa's space shuttle Columbia blasts off (November 1997)
The board also looks for special recommendations from teachers and lecturers as to a candidate's problem-solving abilities, communication skills (both written and verbal) and ability to work well in a team.

With space becoming a more multi-national and multi-cultural operation, it is also useful to know about other languages and cultures.

Colonel Charlie Bolden had to wake up early for basic Russian lessons to prepare for a mission with cosmonauts in 1995 . He suggests that every American should, at the very least, be bilingual.


Only about 120 applicants from the total of more than 4,000 reach the final stage - a week of stringent interviews and medical examinations.

A strict health and physical fitness examination must be passed which includes:

  • Vision must be no worse than 20/50 uncorrected for pilot astronauts and 20/100 for mission specialist astronauts
  • Blood pressure while sitting must be no greater than 140 over 90
  • Height restrictions apply - 64" to 76" (160 to 190cms) for pilots and 60" to 76" (150 to 190cms) for mission specialists

Once the last 20 candidates are over the final hurdle and have been selected, the hard work begins.

They start a highly specialised and rigorous training programme involving the efforts of hundreds of people.

As manned space flight programmes become more sophisticated, so has the complex and lengthy training process. Novice astronauts receive training in everything from weightlessness to meteorology to computer science.


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