How to become an astronaut
How to become an astronaut, Since Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to go into space in 1961, only 560 other people have had a similar experience. A collective achievement that reached its zenith when the American Neil Armstrong stepped on the Moon in July 1969. After decades without major headlines about the feats of astronauts, the videos of the Canadian Chris Hadfield, performing daily experiments in zero gravity and playing the song on his guitar Space Oddity on the International Space Station (ISS), have regained the fascination of being part of the remarkable group of people who travel to space. But what do you have to do to become an astronaut?
The first American astronauts were selected in the late 1950s from among military pilots, who also had to meet other requirements, such as not having reached the age of 40, being under 1.80 meters tall, or having outstanding physical fitness. Once these basic conditions were satisfied, they then had to undergo severe military, medical, physical, and psychological tests. A process that even seemed unattainable to Hadfield himself, who at the age of nine decided to be an astronaut; he tells about it in his An Astronaut’s Guide to Living on Earth: «I knew, like all children in Canada, that this was impossible. (…) However… just until the day before it had been impossible to walk on the Moon, and Neil Armstrong had not been deterred by it. Maybe one day I could go too, and if that day came, I wanted to be ready.”
A DEMANDING WORKOUT
The last time NASA published a call to select astronauts was in 2017. It received an avalanche of more than 18,000 applications, from which it chose 12 people who met the following characteristics: having a degree in Engineering, Biology, Physics, or Mathematics, having three years of experience in their field of specialty, and passing a thorough physical examination. They also had to demonstrate leadership, teamwork, and communication skills. Currently, there is no age restriction and it is only necessary to have enough flight hours to be a commander or pilot.
The chosen dozen began a demanding two-year training, in which they prepare to withstand the exceptional conditions of living in space (training in vacuum chambers ) or to manage in a situation of weightlessness (which is achieved in impressive parabolic flights ). They must also learn, among many other tasks, the complex workings of the ISS .
The hardest test to overcome before going into space is the human centrifuge , a machine that simulates the very strong accelerations suffered by the body during suborbital flight , and which is decisive in determining whether one is physically and psychologically prepared for the challenge. All in all, a mission of 10 to 14 days requires five to eight years of preparation. Hadfield explains why in his book: “…each spacewalk is a highly choreographed, multi-year effort involving hundreds of people and entailing a great deal of dogged and unacknowledged work to ensure that all details and contingencies have been carefully considered. ».
THE BORDER BETWEEN THE ATMOSPHERE AND SPACE
NASA isn’t the only space agency looking to recruit astronauts. The ESA (European Space Agency) also makes calls, as does the Russian FKA (Federal Space Agency, better known as Roscosmos) or the Chinese CNSA (China National Space Administration). In total, there are 40 countries that have put one of their citizens into space. This means overcoming the Kármán line, the border between the atmosphere and outer space, 100 km above sea level. “As an experiment, I let go of the checklist for a few seconds and see that it hovers motionless in the air before drifting serenely instead of crashing to the ground. (…) I am in space, weightless, and it took me only eight minutes and forty-two seconds to get here. Although you have to add a few thousand days of instruction to that », Hadfield writes of his experience. The record for staying abroad is held by the Russian commander Guennadi Pádalka with 879 days in orbit.
Although the most attractive thing about astronauts is that they go out into space, the truth is that they spend almost all their working time on the ground. The day-to-day of this elite profession consists of identifying and correcting the failures of other astronauts , helping solve technical problems experienced by colleagues in orbit, and creating new tools and procedures for the future. They also receive training, and classes and take tests. Just going out into space doesn’t make someone an astronaut. In fact, since 2001, a person can become a space tourist if he pays between twenty and forty million dollars. The trip includes leaving Earth on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.and spend about 10 days on the ISS, after about six months of training.