Top Ten Reasons to Become a 21st Century Astronaut

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Fly NASA Guest Blogger: NASA Astronaut Mike Massimino  


10. With more international partners, space food is even better!

9.   Work with truly the best group of people in the world

8.   Learn flying in space skills

7.  Inspire young people

6.  Train with our international partners and learn their cultures

5.  Learn to spacewalk and truly work in a vacuum

4. See the world – literally

3. Create lasting friendships          

2. Memories that will last a lifetime


and the number one reason to become a 21st Century Astronaut


1. Participate in the greatest adventure ever attempted


Apply today!


When in Doubt, Just Do it: Astronaut Mark Vande Hei

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Fly NASA Guest blogger: NASA Astronaut Mark T. Vande Hei

I was alive when humans landed on the moon, but too young to remember it.  During my entire life astronauts were larger-than-life heroic characters.  It would have been cool to meet one, but to be one?  Inconceivable.  I figured that my time was better spent on more realistic pursuits.

About two decades ago, when I was a brand-new lieutenant in the Army, my company commander showed me a letter saying that the Army was looking for applications from those who wanted to become NASA astronauts.  I was incredulous when I realized that I met the minimum requirements.  That was the first time I thought about being an astronaut long enough to realize how exciting the idea was.  For a couple of weeks I was energized by all the possibilities for the future. 

As that heightened emotion subsided, Skepticism and self doubt crept back in.  I thought that NASA was probably looking for military pilots and that otherwise NASA probably only wanted people with PhDs.  Knowing myself as a very fallible human being I started struggling with seeing myself as an astronaut.  Bottom line, I gave myself excuses not to apply. 

On the flip side, I set some goals for myself. 

Seventeen years later, with the encouragement of my wife, I finally applied.

Now I’m an astronaut, recently graduated from introductory training, travelling to Russia, Japan, and Europe, let alone all over the United States.  I have the opportunity to work with an amazing work force of talented people who are passionate about what they are doing.  Training involves learning about spacecraft systems, flying jet aircraft, SCUBA diving, and learning foreign languages.  Just yesterday I was learning about medical care by helping in an operating room.  All these opportunities for a regular guy like me.  On top of that, I might get to fly to space some day.

How do you get a job that involves opportunities as varied as flying in a two-seat jet and working in a hospital operating room all to get ready to expand the horizons of humanity in space?  It starts with deciding that it is appealing to you.  The next step is to turn in your application.  I wish I had started doing it much earlier.

So…You Wanna Be An Astronaut???

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Fly NASA Guest Blogger: NASA Astronaut Clayton Anderson

Filling out paperwork ( and sending it to NASA is prettyeasy…as a matter of fact, it might even be fun! Putting down on paper (or CD or micro drive…you know, modern technologyand all!) all of the wonderful accomplishments you have experienced thus far inyour young lives can be an awesome motivator! Passing the rest of the tests and interviews that lie ahead may be a bitmore daunting, but the “thrill of the chase” to become an astronaut is excitingand challenging nonetheless!

So, let’s say you getselected…you are a proud member of the Astronaut Class of 2013.  What awaits you in your early years…what willoccupy your time?  Well, first you mustrelocate to Houston, Texas, a huge and dynamic city with many incredibleopportunities.  You will report to thebeautifully serene campus of NASA’s Johnson Space Center and you will be givena new badge entitling you to the full fledged advantages of civil serviceemployment as a U. S. Government employee.

Youwon’t need your desk for awhile as your time will be very structured and youwill be expected to learn many things in many different places, such as speakingRussian, performing spacewalks and flying robotic arms!  So perhaps world travel is in your future,like, let’s say, Canada, Japan, Europe and of course Russia!  After a couple of years of orientation andbasic skills training in various subjects like outdoor survival, SCUBA andpublic speaking, you will be tapped on your shoulder by management to beginyour flight specific training!  YourFrequent Flier account will need to be up-to-date and you’ll want to have thatnumber memorized, because, roughly 4-6 weeks at a time, over an approximate 3year period, you will be traveling around the world and most often to thehallowed sanctum of the training territory of Star City, Russia, just 45minutes north east of Moscow.  You willbe a part of what NASA designates as the astronaut space station trainingprogram, known as the “single flow to launch.” Then, hopefully at some futuredate, you will be asked to step up to the plate and fly as a prime crewmember,which will mean more trips to Star City. It also will mean that your dream ofreaching the cosmos, is rapidly approaching (oh, and did I mention that you’llbe urinating in bottles a lot?)!

Image at left: ClaytonAnderson participates in a training session in an International Space Stationmodule mockup at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia. Credit:NASA

When you do get selected…pleaseaccept my sincere congratulations!  It’sthen the real deal and you’ll have the best job in the universe! You will partof a select ‘fraternity’ and looking forward to some of the most wonderfulchallenges of your life!

Your time in Russia will beexciting and tedious…all at the same time. There will be struggles and successes each and every day.  Those days will typically be divided into fourperiods (one hour and 50 minutes each) with a lunch break from 12:50 to 2 p.m.Classes start at 9 a.m. and end just before 6 p.m. The classes occur in the“territory” of Star City, quite similar in functionality to the Johnson SpaceCenter in Houston. The territory is about a 10-minute walk from the dorm-likecottages where you will live and is home to the myriad of successes of theRussian space program and their famed cosmonauts.

Your initial classes will be theoretical in nature with some “praktika(hands-on)” training in reasonably high fidelity ISS modules; the ServiceModule (SM), the Functional Cargo Block (FGB) … it’s a G and not a C becausethe Russian word for cargo starts with a G … are you starting to get thepicture on the language thing?  Eventually,you will be required to enter these training mock-ups and show them what youknow (or don’t know!). Much like your days back in college, you will have oral exams(“konsultatziya”) where you are quizzed by your instructors and the engineerswho boast of exacting knowledge of each and every system.  Your goal will be to show them whereeverything is and be able to describe and operate every system in thevehicle!  Unless you’re a pretty fluentRussian speaker, your weeks will also include two four-hour sessions of RussianLanguage training.  Hopefully, you are alreadygetting a leg (кога, pronounced “noga”) up on that situation!  But be ready … these folks talk so fast!

This may, quite possibly, be one of the hardest things you have ever done. Itis possible that you will miss your family and you may experience anxiety (yes,some astronauts do worry about stuff!) as you become wrapped up in the “newness”of the whole situation.  Things willhappen really fast at first, but you will settle into a routine, which helpsimmensely. You and your family will be living the excitement that is associatedwith being one of the lucky few to experience life off of our planet’ssurface.  Your lives will be presented withnew and wonderful opportunities; you will be interviewed by the newspapers and beon TV!  You will learn of the strength ofyour family and friends and the joys of sharing together as you begin to understandthe importance of your magnificent and “out of this world” adventure.

Now…what are you waitingfor???  Boldly go, where few humans havegone before and oh, by the way,…live long and prosper!

Passport to Leadership and Other Places Out of This World

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Fly NASA Guest Blogger: JSC Deputy Center Director Ellen Ochoa 



Everything I dreamed about during the years I pursued an astronaut career came to pass, and the experiences were even more amazing than I pictured.

Training is both individually challenging and the ultimate in

developing teamwork; actually launching into space is unbelievable; learning how to work efficiently and effectively in microgravity is exciting and humbling; seeing the Earth from space is startlingly beautiful and emotional; and accomplishing your mission is the most rewarding feeling possible. 


However, I thought I’d mention some of the other experiences I’ve had as a result of being an astronaut, most that I never imagined when I first thought about applying.

As a Capcom, the astronaut who works in Mission Control  supporting the Flight Director by communicating with crews, the many training
simulations I worked that dealt with lots of malfunctions helped prepare me for some real-life mission problems.  During STS-83, a failed fuel cell broughtEllen Ochoa as Capcom the mission to an early close and we stayed busy coming up with and communicating to the crew an entry plan to account for possible subsequent failures.  STS-100’s mission was affected by problems with all of the U.S. command and control computers on the International Space Station (ISS)  – a failure we hadn’t trained for since it was deemed “non-credible” – and hard work by the ground and crew over several days restored the computers and allowed the STS-100 crew to successfully complete its mission of installing the station robotic arm.


In the mid-90s, I served as the astronaut leading the crew office support of ISS, not long after a re-design of our space station plans made Russia our prime partner.  In that role, I negotiated with Russian training and operations personnel on how we were going to train for and operate the new ISS during various phases of assembly – what level of systems training, where the training would take place, what language would be used, both during training and onboard, and how astronauts and cosmonauts would work together in orbit.  While common now, it was quite an unusual experience then to tour the Russian mission control center, Star City where all cosmonauts have been trained and, a few years later while training for STS-96, to visit the launch site in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, from where both Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin were launched.


After four amazing Space Shuttle missions, I had the opportunity to become Deputy, and later Director of Flight Crew Operations, the organization that manages the astronaut office and aircraft operations at Johnson Space Center.  That put me in mission control on the tragic day of Columbia’s entry and as one of the managers representing the crew during the subsequent effort to return the shuttle to flight.  I’ve had the responsibility to give a GO or NO GO for the crew during flight readiness reviews and launch countdowns many times since, an action that always has me reviewing lessons learned in acceptance of risk.  The entire Shuttle and ISS team have together accomplished an incredible feat since then – the assembly of the ISS, and continuous habitation by crews for over 11 years.  During that time, I got more international experience, leading discussions among the heads of the crew offices of Russian, European, Japanese,  and Canadian space agencies to work out crew assignments and address other crew issues, and representing our crews during final preparations for launch in Kazakhstan with the opportunity to compare pre-launch activities and rituals between our countries.

Today, as Deputy Center Director, I work not only with operations and engineering personnel, but also with all the other professionals who make our space program work, including those in finance, procurement, information technology and human resources to name a few.  I also get to interact with leaders across the agency, and community and political leaders who both support NASA and task us to improve our performance and our relevance. 


While the technology that NASA has developed or refined that is now used throughout many industries is our concrete contribution to society, I believe that it is the inspiration that comes from what  NASA accomplishes with challenging missions that is our greatest legacy.


Perhaps some of the following personal examples, from my twenty-plus years of giving hundreds of presentations and receiving thousands of letters from all over the world will illustrate that:


n  An 8-year-old boy taking my hand and refusing to let go for an hour after I spoke at a library, and his mom telling me he couldn’t sleep for the previous couple of nights because he was so excited about seeing an astronaut;

n  A female student majoring in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford telling me she saw me speak at her school when she was in 2nd grade, and from that time forward, she was determined to become an engineer;

n  A 5th grade student running up to me and telling me proudly that his name was Ochoa too, and he wanted to accomplish something amazing in his life like me;

n  A profile of me written by a group of Latina teenagers in a suicide prevention initiative and being told these girls believe in themselves and their abilities more after learning about me and other role models;

n  Two public schools named after me, both in areas with largely Hispanic populations, and seeing first-hand how the theme of space exploration is translated into enthusiasm about learning in every subject;

n  Many letters including pictures of girls dressed as an astronaut, giving a report for their school’s Living Museum or Books Alive project;

n  Letter from a 6th grader: “I’m not very good at math, but now I know to be an NASA employee you must be good at math, so I’ll be hitting those books!”

n  Letter from a 9th grader:  “When I hear about your life, that makes me change my opinion about coming to school because I used to tell my mom that I didn’t want to go to school but now I know that coming to school is part of getting a good job like you.  I respect you and love you.”

n  Letter from a first grader : “I am a lot like you.  I am haf Mexican.  I am a girl.  And I want to go to space.  I am six and a haf.  I have wanted to be an astronaut for six years.  I think.”

n  And finally, a letter from a woman who wrote how thrilled she was to see STS-66 launch:  “I am 80 years old and never saw anything like it.  The last time I was thrilled was when [I saw] Charles A. Lindberg landed at the Air Post in St. Louis.” 


All of these experiences demonstrate what it means to represent NASA and what being an astronaut is really all about – not just the opportunity to fly in space — but a career encompassing operational, international, and leadership experiences, with the goal of helping our country, and indeed people all over the world, reach for the stars.


The Phone Call: Astronaut Mike Hopkins

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Fly NASA Guest Blogger: NASA Astronaut Mike Hopkins


I spent most of my life dreaming about becoming an astronaut and as an adult I spent a great deal of time trying to become one.  After four applications spread out over twelve years it all came down to waiting for a single five minute phone call.  And that phone call is one I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.


My journey to the “phone call of a lifetime” began during high school when, like most young people, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.  During this period, I would watch the space shuttle launches and the video clips of the astronauts living and working in space and somewhere in that a dream was born.  What job could be more exciting than one that required commuting to work on a rocket?  Unfortunately, NASA didn’t hire astronauts right out of high school so I needed to come up with another plan.  I enjoyed math and science in school and flying always piqued my interests so I started to think about aerospace engineering.  One thing led to another and before I knew it I was at the University of Illinois enrolled in the College of Engineering and the USAF Reserve Officer Training Corps.


Aerospace engineering, USAF ROTC, football and membership in the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity quickly filled up my days and nights at U of I, but the dream of being an astronaut was still tucked away in the back of my mind.  Five and half years later I found myself as a 2nd Lieutenant in the USAF assigned to Phillips Laboratory in Albuquerque, NM with a BS in aerospace engineering from U of I and a MS in aerospace engineering from Stanford.  I didn’t take me long to realize how fortunate I was to be a member of the US military and the many exciting and unique opportunities that were available to me.  Three years after starting my Air Force career, I was a student flight test engineer at the USAF test pilot school and life couldn’t have been better.  I was applying first hand a great deal of the knowledge I had learned as an aerospace engineering student and every day seemed more exciting than the last.  Soon after this I mailed in my first astronaut application for the class of 1998 fully knowing that I still didn’t have the experience necessary to get selected but that was ok because I was having the time of my life.


Another three years and another unique opportunity presented itself.  In 1999, I became an exchange officer working at the Canadian Flight Test Center in Cold Lake, Alberta.  Again another astronaut application was submitted for the class of 2000 and again I wasn’t invited for an interview, but I still wasn’t worried because Canada was a great place to live and work.  At the end of my tour in Canada, I was blessed to be selected as an Olmsted Scholar which sent me and my family to Parma, Italy via the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.  This assignment proved to be just as fantastic as my previous tours though in different ways.  I was no longer flying, but I was learning more than I could have ever imagined about Italy and its culture.  And guess what?  While in Italy, I submitted another astronaut application for the class of 2004 and once again I didn’t get an interview.  At this point I was starting to get concerned that I had chosen a path in life that wasn’t leading to NASA, but I decided that I would continue doing what I enjoyed and that I would keep applying to NASA until they finally told me I was too old.


Eventually we had to return from Italy and I took an assignment at the Pentagon which turned out to be one of my most rewarding and challenging jobs.  During this time, NASA was again accepting applications for a class in 2009 and once again I applied.  I was overjoyed when I was invited for an interview in the fall of 2008 because I had never made it this far before in the selection process.  This was followed by several agonizing months waiting for an invite to a second interview in February of 2009.  And then, it came down to a phone call.  As a part of the group invited for a second interview, I knew that I would receive a phone call either informing me that I had been selected or that I would need to try again in the future.  Imagine wondering every time the phone rang if that was the call from NASA.  Eventually Peggy Whitson and Steve Lindsey did call and the flood of emotion at that moment is difficult to describe.  After over twenty five years since I’d first started dreaming of being an astronaut and twelve years of applications, and a five minute phone conversation would change my life forever.  There is no way I’ll ever forget that phone call.



The road to the astronaut corps was long, but it is also one I wouldn’t trade for anything.  Along the way I married the most wonderful woman and together we’ve been blessed with two 

amazing sons.   I’ve worked for and with some incredible people all over the world and without those experiences I know I would never have been selected as an astronaut candidate.  And now, two and a half years after I received that “phone call of a lifetime”, I’m happy to write that it only represented the beginning of an unbelievable journey filled with many, many more “events of a lifetime” that I wish everyone reading this could experience.  Who knows, maybe if you keep pursuing your dreams one of your life changing events will also be a simple phone call…



Core Values, Corps Camaraderie: NASA Astronaut Reid Wiseman

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Fly NASA Guest Blogger: NASA Astronaut G. Reid Wiseman


From Star City, Russia.


I am currently living in Moscow to immerse in the Russian language and culture as part of long duration spaceflight training. Friday marked the end of my second week and I needed a break. 


I needed to hear English.  Star City is about 35 kilometers to the northeast and I knew several astronauts were in town training with their fellow cosmonauts for upcoming missions. A weekend with them was just what the doctor ordered.


After a long ride in bad traffic, I arrived at the “cottages” where we live while training in Star City.  I was cold, hungry, tired.  As I approached cottage #3 I could see through the window perhaps a dozen people who looked very warm.  They were laughing and talking.  This was what I needed.  I walked through the door and there were my colleagues and friends…Don Pettit, a scientist launching in just weeks to the ISS…Sunita Williams, a Navy test pilot…Joe Acaba, a school teacher…Jeremy Hansen, a Canadian fighter pilot…Akihiko Hoshide, a Japanese aerospace engineer.  And the list went on and on…


It was the best feeling to be standing in that foyer.  Warm.  Happy.  With friends.


It was at this precise moment that I realized what it takes to be a part of the NASA team.  Be yourself and nothing else. Bring your unique skills and experiences to this diverse group of men and women from all walks of life, from all corners of the globe, from all backgrounds.  This is what makes the astronaut corps unique.  This is what makes the astronaut corps successful.


A Month in the Life of an Astronaut: Astronaut Jeanette Epps

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Fly NASA Guest Blogger: Astronaut Jeanette Epps 

Instead of “a day in the life of…,” I thought it might be even more useful to describe one month of my life as an astronaut in training.  November started with the graduation of the ASCAN (Astronaut Candidate) class of 2009.  It was a beautiful event attended by the NASA Administrator, the Center Director of JSC, the chief of FCOD and the chief of the astronaut office, as well as our families and friends.  After two years of training, it was a nice way to close that chapter of our journey. 

Next I participated in CAPCOM (capsule communicator) training, which includes full day simulations in a room very similar to the Mission Control Center.  The training simulations include system failures and emergencies that are very realistic.  So, though the system failures were only simulations, we certainly felt pressure as if it they were real!  It was a great way to prepare for real life situations.  There are two aspects of this training that I enjoyed – , first was learning how to communicate with the crew on station, which will help me if/when I’m a crew member communicating through CAPCOM.  The second item that I enjoyed was the professionalism and expertise of the Flight Director and the engineers on console.  They work hard to be knowledgeable and prepared.  As a potential crew member, I’m confident that they can handle any problem to ensure crew and station safety. 

I then traveled to Montreal, Canada for one week to learn about the Canadian Robotic Arm located on the International Space Station.  The robotic arm has extensive utility on Station.  It is used for EVAs (extra-vehicular activities, or space walks), resupply vehicles visiting the Station, as well as other uses.  This was a great week with one of my classmates and two other individuals whom I’ll work with in the future.  We received much hands-on training on using the robotic arm.  I enjoyed this because we worked really hard, but we had a great time as well!  This is how I envision training – hard work, but fun and rewarding!

 A couple of days after returning from Canada, I immediately prepared for a 6-hour EVA training session, which involves performing a variety of EVA maneuvers wearing a full space suit in the pool at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab.  These under water training sessions simulate the weightlessness of an astronaut in space conducting an EVA.  This is my absolute favorite aspect of training! It is unlike any training that I’ve ever done and hard to describe. 

 Finally, several of my classmates and I participated in Field Medical Training, which involves learning to do bladder catheterization, IV catheter insertion, how to intubate (airway management), dental procedures and emergency procedures.   We practiced these procedures on mannequins as well as patients.  We even practiced on IV catheter insertion on each other – we really trust each other!

This is just one month in the life of an astronaut, and I didn’t even mention the T-38 flying requirements and Russian language training that we must keep up with.  It sounds like an overwhelming schedule but when I think of what we’ve been entrusted to do, it is not a burden but an honor.  

Today is the day!

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Fly NASA Guest Blogger: Astronaut Selection and Training Manager Duane Ross 

Today is the day!


The opening of the astronaut application window is always one of my favorite days. I have served as the Manager of the Astronaut Selection Office for more than many years, and it continues to be a great job.


Throughout the year, I am contacted frequently by young hopefuls wanting to learn more about what it takes to become an astronaut. What type of school should they go to? What topics should they study? What will set them apart from the other aspiring applicants? Etc., etc.  Of course, over the years, my answers have remained the same. They should follow their own passion and aptitude and their character and accomplishments will speak for themselves.

2009 astronaut candidates Mark T. Vende Hei(left) and Jeanette J. Epps practice various fire-starting techniques during analmost week-long land survival training course in the wilderness of westernMaine. Looking on are Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut candidateTakuya Onishi and Duane Ross (partially obscured) manager of astronautcandidate selection and training.

It is always so humbling to represent this office and the amazing team it represents. Not only do I get to meet, work and train the astronauts of tomorrow, but I meet hundreds of truly amazing Americans. The best of the best as they say – by the hundreds. I’ve met soldiers from the military who have done things I can barely fathom. I’ve met scientists working in cutting edge fields of medicine and discovery. I’ve talked with engineers who have worked on projects and technologies that were barely conceived of when I started working at NASA. Teachers, doctors, even a veterinarian. We have a wide, wide variety of people and backgrounds that make up the astronaut office. It’s what makes our astronaut corps so great!


I hope you will explore our Web site and see if you have what it takes to be one of our country’s great explorers! Or maybe you know someone who does!


Check it out!  Fly NASA!


Duane Ross

NASA’s Astronaut Selection Office