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Many children dream of being astronauts. Sitting in the space shuttle as Mission Control counts down from ten, nine, eight . . . to blastoff is a fantasy of many youngsters. Yet the reality of the matter is that hardly any people will get to fulfil this dream, despite the amount of applicants. Walking on the moon is reserved for only a select elite.

Astronaut is Latin for "star sailor," which quite nicely describes the career. Astronauts go on space shuttles to conduct experiments and further our understanding about life and other galaxies so unimaginably far away. Space operations astronauts are professional astronauts that work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). They prepare for and perform space operations activities, such as working on the space shuttle, or working in Mission Control. They train for a variety of spaceflights including shuttles and expedition assignments to the International Space Station (ISS).

Invited astronauts are industry or academic-sponsored spaceflight participants on either short or long duration missions to the International Space Station (ISS). NASA must approve their selection based on ISS standards. Invited astronauts may operate a highly specialized piece of experimental equipment or manufacture materials of high economic value, such as fiber optics, metal alloys, and new medications. Invited astronauts may include engineers, scientists, teachers, journalists, filmmakers, or tourists.

Each space shuttle flight requires a minimum of four crewmembers to operate it safely, of which there must be at least one commander, one pilot, and two mission specialists. Commanders are like the head pilots, responsible for the safety of the vehicle and crew. Pilot astronauts, like those who co-pilot airplanes help the commander fly, navigate and land the spacecraft. Mission specialists are like the event planners on board a space shuttle. They are in charge of co-ordinating the shuttle's operations, planning the crew's activities and managing the food, fuel and oxygen so that there is enough to last the entire shuttle. These specialists perform all the experiments and do the actual space and "moon walks." Neil Armstrong was a mission specialist when he first stepped onto the moon.

Sometimes mission specialists are responsible for the payload, however sometimes, a payload specialist (usually a non-NASA astronaut) is sponsored to accompany the shuttle that runs the payload structure.
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  Interests and Skills  
Although becoming an astronaut can be an "out of this world" experience, it can also be both personally and professionally demanding. Astronauts require a vast array of skills and knowledge, including the ability to react quickly to difficult and dangerous situations. They must be in peak physical conditions and pass a number of strenuous mentally challenging tests. Also, they need to be good team players as the missions all depend on a team of trained individuals working together towards a common goal.

On top of the physical requirements of the job, astronauts must also deal with the constant demands of the press and the public at large, and are often required to speak in front of large groups about their experiences. As such, the rigorous NASA astronaut selection process, which can take as long as six to 12 months, is designed to uncover the most qualified individuals.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Research various climate and environmental problems from space
  • Set up satellites in outer space
  • Coordinate and maintain all food, oxygen and gas on board the shuttle
  • Train for all aspects of a space shuttle including takeoff, landing and living in a gravity free zone
  • Learn safety procedures and other related evacuation skills
  • May walk on planets and moons in space
  • May fly the space shuttle
  • There is no such thing as a typical day for an astronaut for there are many facets to the job. In the preparation for a space shuttle, astronauts practice launching procedures, emergency evacuations and other experiments in a simulated space environment. Long hours are normal and time spent away from home can be hard on family life. For example, some astronauts go on three to six month long journeys and some enter outer space to live on the International Space Station.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Astronauts work for NASA or through governmental organizations on the International Space Station (ISS) jointly built and run by the United States, Canada, Russia, Japan and 11 European countries.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Since becoming an astronaut is not only a long and arduous trial and that only a select elite are chosen to work in the profession, most astronauts stay with the career for life. If anything, they work at NASA in Mission Control or even teaching and training potential candidates.

Otherwise, astronauts can transfer into other space-related fields. They could become aerospace engineers and scientists or return to their former professions, which are usually one of the former two mentioned. They have the option of becoming accomplished leaders in any field.

  Educational Paths  
Although there is no specified educational path, the bare minimum degree that astronauts have is a bachelor's degree. Since they are required to perform such a wide range of technical and scientific work, most candidates have a master's or PhD in engineering, science, mathematics, psychology, medicine (MD) or anything related to the aerospace industry. Those with bachelor's degrees must be working towards a relevant post-graduate degree for a minimum of three years.

In order to be selected, candidates must also pass a security clearance. Since astronaut training and being in outer space are physically demanding, candidates must be in peak physical shape, pass psychological examinations and have a clean bill of health. They must pass the NASA Class II medical standards which includes: being between 148.6 and 193.04 cm in height, having 20/20 eye sight or better, a maximum blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg and sound hearing based on a chart.

Once chosen, candidates undergo basic training, to earn the title of astronaut. Basic training consists of many different forms of education in science, remote sensing, flight training, scuba diving, parachuting, survival training and first aid, to name a few. Each crew is carefully chosen based on the specific needs of the flight and the availability of qualified astronauts.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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