Requirements, diploma, physical condition: how to become an astronaut

Fly into space like Yuri Gagarin or Neil Armstrong. Many dream of it, especially when they are children. Becoming an astronaut yourself, on the other hand, is not so easy. The requirements are high, especially in terms of physical and mental fitness.

Who can become an astronaut?

If you want to be an astronaut, you must first do well in school. The prerequisite for applying to the European Space Agency ESA is a university degree in physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, engineering or medicine – or a comparable degree. In addition, at least three years of professional experience in the field or flight experience as a pilot would be a plus. However, you are not required to have studied aerospace engineering.
The US space agency NASA has similar requirements, and you must also be a US citizen there.

Speaking very good English is also required for the application. Knowing how to speak another foreign language is an advantage. He does not have to be Russian, this will be taught later in the training.

Health is also important. Anyone who wants to be an astronaut must be disease-free, mobile, and have full vision in both eyes with or without visual aids. Smoking, drug use or alcohol dependence are exclusion criteria, as is mental illness. But you don’t have to be a muscle man! Physical condition is important, a well-developed musculature can “even be a disadvantage for astronauts in weightlessness”, writes the ESA. A doctor on board will verify that the candidates are fit for a health test.

Both men and women can apply. Then there are gender-specific exams and the values ​​that candidates have to achieve in the fitness test are also gender-specific. Otherwise the conditions are the same.

In 2008, when German Alexander Gerst applied for the apprenticeship, he was among 8,413 applicants.

How long does the education last?

At ESA, the training lasts about three and a half years, from the start of the training until you are actually authorized to go on a mission in space. The training is divided into three phases:

  • 1 year of basic training
  • 1 year of development
  • 18 months of mission-specific training

In the basic training, trainees receive everything they need to know about ESA and other space agencies. This includes the most important space programs. Basic knowledge of space technology and electrical engineering are also on the program, as are the most important systems of the International Space Station ISS and Russian language lessons or diving training.

Advanced training goes even deeper into the hardware: operation and maintenance of the ISS or in-depth knowledge of the systems. Ultimately, applicants should know everything they “need for virtually every flight to the ISS.” But it is also an in-depth knowledge of on-board resource and data management, robot technology or medical knowledge.

It is only in the third part of the training that the astronauts are prepared for their actual mission. The crew and rescue team are trained on what to do while in space. During their missions to the ISS, ESA astronauts carry out experiments or assemble and check station components. US space agency NASA plans to put the first woman or next man on the moon by 2024 – and later possibly on Mars.
Team building measures for cohesion are also important for mission specific training.

How long do astronauts stay in space?

The duration of such a mission varies. Russian cosmonaut Valery Polyakov currently holds the record with more than a year in space, almost 438 days to be exact. Between January 1994 and March 1995, Polyakov spent his time on the Mir space station conducting space medicine research. His compatriot Gennady Padalka has even more days in space, almost 879 – but only if you add up his five missions.

German astronaut Alexander Gerst has already taken part in two ESA missions. In 2014 he was part of the “Blue Dot” mission and was in space for 166 days, in 2018 he did it again, this time for the “Horizons” mission.

cosmonaut and astronaut? The term for people in space varies from country to country. “Cosmonaut”, for example, is the Russian term made up of the Greek words for space and sailor. Americans and Europeans speak of “astronauts”, composed of the Greek “astro” for star and “nautilus” for sailor. The Chinese also speak of “taikonauts”, which contains the Chinese word for “space”. However, it is not an official term, but a coined word.

Which astronaut has been in space the most?

ESA wants astronauts to fly through space multiple times. Everyone must complete at least two missions, which is why you can only apply for the training if you are at most 50 years old.

American Jerry Ross and Costa Rican Franklin Ramon Chang-Díaz have made the most spaceflights. They have each participated in seven NASA missions. Sigmund Jähn was the first German in space. The first German to undertake three missions is Ulf Merbold. He flew into space in 1983 with the space laboratory “Spacelab”, 1992 with the American space shuttle “Discovery” and 1994 with the Russian spacecraft “Soyuz TM-20”.

How much do astronauts earn?

The salary of an astronaut, if not astronomical, is very good. NASA astronauts earn between about $9,000 per month and just over $10,000 per month, according to space jobs portal Stellar Jobs. Depending on the pay grade, that’s about $80,000 to $120,000 a year. The situation is similar in Germany: astronauts can earn between around 74,000 and more than 100,000 euros per year, depending on their professional experience. The job portal “Unicum” reports that there is even an annual salary of 55,000 euros during training. Astro interns earn a similar amount as computer experts or computer scientists.

How to go to the bathroom in space?

Life in space is fascinating to many. Weightlessness, endless expanses – but strictly speaking, daily life on a space station is well planned. Astronauts spend most of their time maintaining the spacecraft. Cleaning and repair are just as important as scientific research. Meals are taken three times a day at set times. Food in space is often freeze-dried. For astronaut food to be edible, it must be mixed with water or “rehydrated” in the mouth.

If you want to get rid of it later, you have to get attached. There is a harness and footrests on the toilet to prevent the astronaut from flying off. The waste is then sucked into a container with high-velocity air currents. Urine goes down the drain, feces are first freeze-dried, chemically treated so they no longer smell and bacteria are killed, then stored.

Also, there is no shower. Water is one of the most valuable resources on board because, like everything else, it must be transported from Earth to the space station. Astronauts use wet wipes to stay clean.

Sources: ESA, NASA, Stellar Jobs, Unicum,, Statista


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