Post-Space Shuttle Astronaut Qualifications

By Cliff Lethbridge

Although the Space Shuttle retired in 2011, NASA is still recruiting and training new astronauts. This new crop of astronauts may be assigned to crews on the International Space Station, but may be assigned to crews for space missions to an asteroid, the Moon and even Mars depending on how the future of NASA progresses. Post-Space Shuttle astronaut qualifications are similar, but not entirely identical to, those previously applied to the Space Shuttle program.

The current astronaut selection process continues on a legacy of acquiring highly qualified individuals for human space programs. Both civilian and military personnel are considered. Astronaut candidates must be U.S. citizens and must pass a series of minimum requirements.

Astronaut candidates must possess at minimum a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics. The degree must be followed by at least three years of related professional experience or at least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. A master’s degree will provide the equivalent of one year of related experience, while a doctorate degree will provide the equivalent of three years of related experience. Educators with experience in grades K-12 are also encouraged to apply.

Additional requirements include a candidate’s ability to pass the NASA long-duration space flight physical. This requires vision correctable to 20/20, blood pressure not to exceed 140/90 in a seating position and a standing height of between 62 and 75 inches. Following the preliminary screening of applicants, a week-long process of personal interviews, medical screening and orientation are required for both civilian and military personnel. Once the final selection of candidates is made, the successful candidates are assigned to the Astronaut Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston for evaluation and training.