How does NASA select astronauts?
In NASA's last round of astronaut selection, they had 6,100 applicants and whittled it down to just 8, giving any one applicant less than a half of one per cent chance of being successful. With so many to pick from, how does NASA - or any other space agency - go about finding the chosen few? Chris Smith got some tips from NASA's lead for astronaut recruitment and training...
Anne - My name is Anne Roemer and I'm the current manager for the astronaut selection programme. I ended up in that job a little bit of luck. We had a gentleman that had done astronaut selection since 1978 who just recently retired and so, I was fortunate to work the last class selection alongside him. NASA does not continuously run astronaut selection. They typically tend to be on average once every 4 years recently.
Chris - There's a lot of people apply when you hold one of your recruitment days. What are you looking for in those applicants?
Anne - Initially, we're looking for some pretty basic qualifications. Folks are required to have a degree in engineering, physical or biological science or math. We also require that they have a minimum of 3 years professional experience beyond that degree. And then additionally, if applying as a pilot, they have to have a thousand hours of flying time in a high performance jet aircraft. And so, those are our starting points. And then as we get into the selection process, and are trying to weed down the number of applicants, we are looking for other things - the combination of educational and operational work experience adaptability, experience working on a team.
Chris - How do you go about identifying people who have those skills and traits and characteristics that you know will make the grade?
Anne - We have quite an involved process. We initially start with candidates submitting their resumes and written materials to provide an initial basis by which to evaluate them. Eventually, we are conducting interviews and we have historically done two rounds of interviews where we're talking to the candidates in person, and getting to interact with them.
Chris - Once you've got someone through the door, what's the chances that they're actually going to get into space? Is it 100 per cent or thereabouts or is it actually still quite slim?
Anne - No. Actually, once we have made the commitment and selected them and they typically go through a 2-year training programme as astronaut candidates, we are probably just under 100 per cent of those folks actually fly in space. We've had a few that have not for a wide variety of reasons, but the majority by far, end up sticking with their NASA astronaut careers and ultimately, flying in space.
Chris - Would you like to be an astronaut, Anne?
Anne - I can honestly say no! I have a slight fear of small confined spaces so I'm not sure that would be a suitable career objective for me.
Chris - Would you pass your own assessment and selection criteria, do you think?
Anne - Probably, not!