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What Is Involved in Astronaut Training?

By Garry Crystal
Updated May 23, 2024
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For many people, venturing into outer space is a lifelong dream. The idea of traveling to the unexplored reaches of the universe has an irresistible draw for some people. For many, it will stay an unrealized dream, but for others who have the commitment, astronaut training can become a reality.

Although the selection process is rigorous, many people from civilian and military life are chosen for the NASA astronaut candidate program. If one's application is accepted, then a one year training program must be completed. Once the training is complete, candidates become members of the astronaut corps. A year within the corps makes one eligible to take part in a flight assignment.

Pilot astronauts are seen as the top dogs within the space flight program. The pilot astronaut must undergo rigorous training, and he or she is for all intents and purposes the captain of the ship. The responsibility for the crew, vehicle and mission all rest on the pilot astronaut's shoulders.

Prerequisites for pilot astronauts include a bachelor’s degree in engineering, physical or biological science or mathematics. A candidate must also have flown jet aircraft for at least 1,000 hours. United States citizenship is also a prerequisite.

There are other types of astronaut roles but all have very similar prerequisites regarding education, physical fitness and citizenship. Other astronaut roles include payload and mission specialists. Astronaut training is very intensive and demanding and should be given great consideration before applying.

Astronaut training takes place at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. Academic courses include study in technical science and mathematics, as well as in meteorology, astronomy, physics and computer sciences. Astronaut training includes working on shuttle simulators. This involves getting to know the instrument panels and error situations, if problems occur.

Another part of the training process is the simulation of weightlessness. This training takes place both in aircraft and in large water tanks. During this training, trainees are taught how to perform tasks in zero gravity, not only routine tasks such as eating, but also tasks such as repairs on the shuttle and space walks.

After basic skills have been learned in the first year, the next step is advanced astronaut training. This training focuses on specific skills that are necessary during a mission. Much of this training takes place in the Shuttle Mission Simulator (SMS).

Every possible scenario will be acted and reenacted using simulation and scripts. The simulations include visual and sound simulations. From takeoff to flight to reentry and landing, all aspects are rigorously tested in detail. There are approximately 7000 different malfunction scenarios that can be tested with the SMS simulator. Astronaut training is demanding for a reason, and it takes extraordinary dedication to successfully complete.

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Discussion Comments
By Lostnfound — On May 22, 2014

Weren't nearly all the Apollo and Gemini astronauts in the military, as well? If they weren't active when they went into the astronaut corps, hadn't most of them served in the military as pilots? Seems like nearly all of them had been test pilots, too.

I guess not many people are joining the astronaut corps anymore. The U.S. manned space program is pretty much non-existent these days. That's a shame. I suppose most of the astronaut corps members are working in other fields.

By Grivusangel — On May 21, 2014

With the advent of the Space Shuttle program, mission specialists were chosen from a much more diverse crowd than the original Gemini and Apollo astronauts. Those guys were mostly pilots of one kind or another. The movie "Apollo 13" makes an oblique reference to the crew flying themselves from Houston to Florida in their own fighter planes. They didn't fly commercial or troop transport.

Now, microbiologists and astronautical engineers are sought after as mission specialists, while physicists and electronic engineers are needed as payload specialists. It's a whole different picture than it was in the 60s.

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