main story image for facebook sharing

Your Career

Sailors Wanted on Spaceships

NASA applications now being accepted

NASA is now accepting applications, and in an attempt to cast the net as wide as possible, the program has been opened up to enlisted service members as well as officers.

Although NASA is a civilian agency, service members have long been highly prized as astronaut candidates. From Alan Shepard, the first Naval Aviator in Space, to Cmdr. Victor Glover and Cmdr. Josh Cassada, the most recent, the military has a long legacy in the space community - and they are looking to continue it.

"It is really valuable here to have people who come from different backgrounds," said Capt. Suni Williams, naval Astronaut. "They look at problems differently, they solve problems differently, and it allows us to look at the best solutions for the things that we're doing and then put those into practice."

One of the common characteristics that the military brings is that aspect of teamwork, leadership, and followership, we've all been in a role in the military that has those characteristics.
-Capt. Suni Williams

To date, only 338 Astronauts have been chosen and currently there are only seven active duty Astronauts.

Astronaut candidates in a aircraft at zero gravity.

Cmdr. Victor Glover's astronaut class training for zero gravity.

"The military is a great way to prepare for this career," said Glover. "We focus a lot on leadership and on technical and or tactical development and the application of technology to solving a problem. We deploy to austere locations with small teams to accomplish a mission."

All Applicants must have a four year degree in a science, engineering, or math and a minimum of three years of experience in their field after their degree was conferred. Applicants must be physically fit with 20/20 vision and blood pressure not to exceed 140/90. Applicants must also be between 62 and 75 inches. There are no age restrictions, but applicants are required to be U.S. Citizens.

The selection process is quite involved and takes a long time given the number of applications received. For example, during the last selection NASA received 6100 applications and selected eight people as Astronaut Candidates. One of those selections was Glover.

Both Glover and Williams applied to the space program twice and both were accepted the second time around.

Three photo spread showing Capt. Suni William.

Left: Capt. Suni William preparing spacesuit an International Space Station walk at the NASA Neutral Buoyancy Lab. Center: Capt. Suni William at NASA's Space Vehicle Mockup Facility. Right: Capt. Suni William in a spacesuit at the NASA Neutral Buoyancy Lab.

"You can apply as many times as you want to apply to the astronaut corps and I would suggest that people start applying as soon as possible because then you get to know the process," said Williams. "The process is not as straight forward as just sending an application in. That is just first the step. As we look for the right candidate there are a lot of things that go into decision process."

"Your applications should read like a long resume and include a summary of your professional experience, your education, hobbies and interests, if you've publish things, research that you've been involved with, if you've had expeditionary experience, being deployed to austere locations, surviving in extreme environments, anything you've done for team sports or group expeditions," said Glover. "Those are the types of things you want to highlight on the application."

From the large pool of applicants NASA has to figure out who they are bringing in for an initial interview. After that round of interviews they narrow the pool even further and bring the remaining applicants out for a second round of interviews. For this interview you are required to do group tasks, take a lot of tests and go through a very extensive physical examination. NASA collects all of the information and then makes their final selections.

"The biggest challenge during the application process is the silence," said Glover. "It's when you don't hear anything. It's waiting and wondering. I applied in 2008 for the 2009 class and I didn't get anything. Once it was all said and done I got a letter saying 'hey thanks kid, try again.' Getting an interview is all you can really hope for. After that it's up to you and how you perform in the interview."

Photo button saying: To see the pathway timeline click here.

To see the pathway timeline click here

Once a candidate is selected they are sent to what Glover called Astronaut Boot Camp.

Selectees are called astronaut candidates until they finish the astronaut candidate training requirements, which is a two-year program. There are five core areas in the curriculum: International space station systems, foreign language training, robotics, T-38 fully qualified Team Member, and candidates have to be capable of doing spacewalk training at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, one of the world's largest indoor pools used for mission planning, procedure development, hardware verification, astronaut training and refinement of time-critical operations necessary to ensure mission success during spacewalks.

"When we are looking at applicants, of course we've got people who have got the minimum academic requirements that we mention in the application process," said Williams.

We are also looking for people who are explorers and like to do things that are a little bit different. There is a vast variety of things that people do to make it sort of a sure bet that you are a person who is a little bit comfortable doing things that are a little bit odd.
-Capt. Suni Williams

And for Sailors, most of the conditions they operate in could be considered odd. Glover said that living on board a ship, in a submarine, a tent, any austere condition is already a step in preparing for life as an astronaut.

"To anybody out there who looks at the application and thinks for a moment they want to do this, I would say apply, apply, apply," said Williams. "There is just no reason you shouldn't apply, and don't be discouraged if you don't get in the first time around. We will probably have selections every couple of years or so as the program gets solidified, so keep applying. And don't worry if it seems like time is going by and I'm getting a little older. We are sending people who are established in their careers so we can have sure bets that they are good leaders, they're good followers, they play well together, they are team members."
For Glover, a relatively new member to the team, it hasn't quite sunk in that he is an astronaut, but for Williams, who was selected to the program in 1998, it sunk in during her first trip into space.

"I actually don't think it sinks in until you are on that rocket and the engines light," said Williams. "For those 7.5 to 8 minutes to get to space you are on the high of that rollercoaster. When you start to float you are like, 'oh my God this is the most incredible thing.' But once you are up there and you are working, you are just that guy doing your job and when you come home you're just that guy here doing your job."

However, the absolute coolness of the job is not lost on either of them, and they also love seeing what they do represented on the big screen. Both were big fans of Matt Damon's character in the Martian.

Mission control with large screens.

Mission Control at NASA.

"Matt Damon did a great job and I was a big fan," said Glover. "Matthew McConaughey's role in Interstellar was great; you know if there's a movie about space I probably dig it. But I have to say, above and beyond all of that, after the selection message was announced I got a phone call, and the person on the other end says 'hey, just wanted to call and congratulate you and to say good luck, you know I won't be able to see you when you guys first get there but I'll be back in a couple of months.' So I'm wracking my brain trying to figure out who this is, and I finally realize it was Chris Cassidy. He called me from the space station. So Matt Damon and Matthew McConaughey are cool but Chris Cassidy called me from space! So he's kind of high up there in my book right now."

For more information on applying for the Space Program visit NPC's Astronaut Candidate page. The application process will close out Feb. 18, 2016. NASA will be accepting applications via a vacancy job announcement posted at USA Jobs. All applications must be submitted electronically.

Navy Personnel Command website for NPC Astronaut Candidate

Navy Personnel Command website