- One of the most exciting and challenging jobs, with the opportunity to travel into space
- Requires excellent scientific or flight skills as well as physical and psychological strength
- A flight in space could last between 6 months and a year
As an astronaut, you'll be trained to fly and maintain spacecraft so you can live safely onboard, and you might also carry out scientific experiments and research. You may also do Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA) or spacewalks to repair the spacecraft or complete research experiments.
Astronauts need to be able to apply their considerable knowledge and skills to the tasks for which they have been trained; be able to bear tremendous responsibility while in orbit; and be determined to succeed.
On the ground you'll be involved in extensive training and preparations for your space flight. Once you're selected, you'll get mission-specific training. Your flight in space could last between 6 months and a year.
Once you are in space your daily activities might include:
- Cleaning and testing air filters and air quality
- Repairing, maintaining and testing oxygen production systems
- Cleaning and maintaining water systems and testing for bacterial growth
- Packaging and disposing of waste
- Replacing worn or broken parts on the spacecraft
- Installing or repairing scientific instruments and equipment
- Setting up, carrying out and monitoring experiments
- Taking samples like blood from astronauts to assess their health
- Communicating with Earth by satellite to transfer data and send reports
You'll need a high level of physical fitness to help you cope with life in space, because of the cramped living conditions and the effects of low gravity on your body. You'll need to spend around 2.5 hours a day exercising when in space to maintain your physical health and stamina.
You'll need excellent leadership skills, strong physical coordination, scientific knowledge, and the ability to stay calm and make quick decisions under pressure. You'll also be away from home for extended periods of time and you'll usually need to travel overseas for training. You'll have several years' training before you're ready to be selected for a mission.
Opportunities to become an astronaut are very limited and competition for places is very strong. Most people progress onto becoming an astronaut after a career as a pilot or as a scientist. As a pilot, you'll need at least 1,000 hours of flying experience in a high performance aircraft like a fighter jet. As a scientist you'll normally need to have a PhD in a subject like biology, chemistry, engineering, information technology, mathematics, or physics.
You will need to able to speak English fluently and it would also help if you could speak a second language, like Russian, which is used on the international space station.
With either of these routes, you'll usually need at least 3 years experience, and will usually need to be between 27 and 37 years old. With aircraft pilot experience or scientific experience you could apply to become an astronaut in the European Astronaut Corps. To become an astronaut with NASA, you'll need to have US citizenship or US dual-citizenship.
You'll have several years' training before you're ready for a mission. It may take you years to be selected for a space flight. Once you're selected, you'll get mission specific training. Your flight in space could last between 6 months and a year.
With experience you could:
- be selected for other missions
- move into management, teaching or research
- set up your own consultancy business
You can find out more about related career opportunities in space exploration from the European Space Agency.