With NASA about halfway through its astronaut hiring push, one that ends January 27, the space agency is right where it wants to be with 1,500 applicants vying for what will ultimately be maybe 10 slots. “We got an incredible response,” says Lynnette Madison, from NASA’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs. Especially, she says, because applying for a job on a government website is admittedly “very complicated.”
Astronaut Candidate Selection Manager Duane Ross says “we have many, many more people than we could ever take. It’s a “good-news, bad-news scenario,” he says, meaning NASA will have great people to choose from but wishes it could hire more. “It’s a very competitive job.”
About 3,565 applicants came in last time around — the 2009 class. Of those, about 2,900 met basic qualifications, 113 were brought to Houston, 48 selected as finalists, and nine brought on.
This process happens ever few years: “when we need astronauts,” Ross says. But this time around, given the advent of social media, the NASA ad blitz was bigger and the candidates are coming in more quickly.
NASA advertised the jobs — well, in brief, everywhere. This included diversity magazines, news releases, public service announcements on radio and TV, Twitter, NASA TV, blogs, Facebook, contacts with universities, and all military branches.
NASA made astronaut Rex Walheim, who was on the final Space Shuttle flight, available to answer questions about NASA and the application process (in one response, for example, Walheim noted that he’s surprised how many people look healthy but fail medical tests).
The application process for an astronaut job is more typical of a a government job than you might think: put your resume in a recruiting technology system, along with references; submit your transcript; eventually take a drug test, and so on.
NASA’s looking for someone who’s ambitious, team-oriented, creative, and daring. You have to be willing to travel for three to six months at a time — and by “travel” NASA doesn’t mean your basic trade show in Vegas, but rather “distant destinations in deep space.”
You’ll need a degree in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics. An aviation degree doesn’t count. You have to pass a swimming test your first month of training, and eventually will need to learn Russian.
After the January 27 deadline, interviews, reference-checks, and medical exams will begin. The folks hired now are really hired based on future needs. Basic training’s about two years long, and mission-specific training about 2 1/2 years long. So NASA’s hiring people based on projections about 4 1/2 years in the future.