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Astronauts are trained to fly, or be crew members of, spacecraft.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: £40,000 to £80,000 average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: Variable per week

1. Entry requirements

Opportunities to become an astronaut are very limited and competition for places is very strong.

You'll usually need to be aged 27 to 37 and able to speak English fluently. It would also help if you could speak a second language, like basic Russian.

You’ll also need to be a pilot with at least 1,000 hours of flying experience in a high performance aircraft like a fighter jet, or have a PhD in a subject like biology, chemistry, engineering, information technology, mathematics, or physics. With either of these routes, you’ll usually need 3 years’ experience. 

With aircraft pilot experience or a PhD you could apply to become an astronaut in the European Astronaut Corps.

To become an astronaut with NASA, you’ll need to have US citizenship or US dual-citizenship.

The European Space Agency has a video about how to become an astronaut. 

2. Skills required

You'll need:

  • excellent scientific or flight skills
  • excellent physical and psychological strength to live in confined spaces for long periods
  • the ability to stay calm during an emergency
  • determination
  • adaptability and good judgement

3. What you'll do

You’ll maintain the spacecraft and make sure you can live safely onboard. You’ll also carry out scientific experiments and research. 

Your duties could include:

  • cleaning and testing air filters and air quality
  • repairing, maintaining and testing oxygen production systems
  • cleaning and maintaining water systems and testing for bacterial growth
  • packaging and disposing of waste
  • replacing worn or broken parts on the spacecraft
  • installing or repairing scientific instruments and equipment
  • setting up, carrying out and monitoring experiments
  • taking samples, like blood, from astronauts to assess their health
  • communicating with Earth by satellite to transfer data and send reports

You may do Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA) or ‘spacewalks’ to repair the spacecraft or complete research experiments.

You’ll also spend around 2.5 hours a day exercising. 

The European Space Agency has a video about living and working on the International Space Station.

4. Salary

Starter: £40,000

Experienced: £62,000

Highly Experienced: £80,000

These figures are a guide.

5. Working hours, patterns and environment

On a mission you’ll work to a set schedule. 

You’ll be away from home for extended periods of time.

You’ll need to travel overseas for training. 

You'll need a high level of physical fitness to help you cope with life in space, because of the cramped living conditions and the effects of low gravity on your body.

6. Career path and progression

You’ll have several years’ training before you’re ready to be selected for a mission. It may take you years to be selected for a space flight. Once you’re selected, you’ll get mission specific training. Your flight in space could last between 6 months and a year.

With experience you could be selected for other missions. You could also move into management, teaching, research or set up your own consultancy business.

Last updated: 13 September 2018