How to Become an Astronaut in the UK

22nd Jun 2022
How to Become an Astronaut in the UK

Many of us dreamt of becoming an astronaut as children. Somewhere along the line, bogged down in a sea of potential qualifications and limited opportunities, we might lose the zest for space. Actually, those opportunities might not be as limited as you once assumed, in a growing UK space industry.

According to a recent Government press release about ESA recruitment, the UK already employs close to 42,000 people in the space industry, and this figure is set to grow in the coming years.

So, how do you become an astronaut?

Requirement One: Language

For most people in the UK, the language requirement to become an astronaut is easy enough. You need to be able to speak English fluently if you are to become an astronaut. 

Astronaut language requirements have historically included being able to speak Russian. That added a complex layer to proceedings. However, the director-general of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency has stated the country will leave the ISS within years. Russia’s ISS involvement was the main reason Russian was so crucial, so that is probably coming to an end. Most tellingly, the recent ESA recruitment drive did not specify Russian language as a requirement to be an astronaut.

Russian is currently very useful, but may not be essential going forward.

Requirement Two: Education

Astronaut qualifications in the UK and elsewhere in the world are usually varied. There isn’t one specific course or exam.

Beginning training with NASA (if you are an American citizen) or the European Astronaut Corps requires you to have plenty of qualifications already. The better you perform through school and at university, the higher your chances of becoming an astronaut are likely to be.

You’ll need both a degree and postgraduate qualification in a “relevant subject”. This is a vague description, but normally includes:

  • The mainstream sciences (biology, chemistry or physics)
  • Engineering
  • Aeronautics
  • Mathematics
  • Medicine
  • Computer sciences

Additional qualifications are also looked upon favourably. A Private Pilot’s License, SCUBA diving, and skydiving qualifications and experience are all valued, and the more knowledge and enthusiasm for space you can demonstrate, the better.

After all this education, and a successful application to the Astronaut Corps, you will be set for some rigorous training to become an astronaut.

This covers the basic aspects of being an astronaut (well, none of it is really basic).

You’ll learn more about the fundamentals of space flight, robotics, spacecraft systems, and flight training, plus a strict regime of physical activities to keep you fighting fit.

Requirement Three: Mental and Physical Health

Both your physical and mental health should be in top condition if you want to apply to become an astronaut. The European Space Agency explains that candidates should “demonstrate cognitive, mental and personality capabilities to allow them to work efficiently in an intellectually and socially demanding environment”.

While you don’t have to be an athlete in your prime, your physical health should be demonstrable, and the ability to run, and exercise for long periods of time will greatly help your application. 

You must be able to provide the European Part-MED, Class 2 medical examination (Private Pilot medical certificate). If you are already a qualified Private Pilot this may be easy for you to provide.

Your physical and mental health may be monitored over a period of months, and you should be able to demonstrate that you are not reliant on any form of drugs. If you are, you probably won’t be considered. For instance, the studies into diabetic astronauts are limited, but at the moment, a dependency on insulin will prevent you from going to space. There’s always hope for the future.
Even after all of this, you might not be considered for the role. At the moment, the ESA requirements state that those “shorter than 150cm and taller than 190 cm are not able to be assigned to a space mission” due to the size of the craft.

Requirement Four: Persistence

In spite of all of these difficult criteria, there is a lot of competition, and this means that persistence is arguably the most crucial requirement of them all. There is every chance you may have to gain additional experience and qualifications, re-apply after getting rejected, or even make the decision to pursue a different route and type of space career.

Sadly, not everyone is accommodated. Though there are opportunities for disabled people aspiring to become astronauts from time-to-time, in some cases, issues like poor hearing or even your height can prevent you from being considered for missions and training.

In these cases, even persistence won’t help. Fortunately, the space industry still has many exciting roles that you can potentially pursue if you still feel you would like to be involved.

How to Become an Astronaut For Kids: Explain Like I’m Five…

So your child wants to become an astronaut. What to tell them to keep the dream alive?

Start with the good news. There are bound to be more and more jobs becoming available in the UK space industry.

Next, make clear that this is hard work. Becoming an astronaut is a long process and the requirements to be an astronaut are stringent. In fact, sometimes, things you can do nothing about will hinder your chances.

There is plenty you can do to help your chances though. For kids, good habits to increase the chances of becoming an astronaut in the UK include:

  • Study hard, especially in fields like science and maths, which are crucial for becoming an astronaut.
  • Staying active and eating well. Physical health will be vitally important.
  • Stay in school, being educated to postgraduate level is crucial.
  • Learn about space. All the knowledge you can gain is potentially helpful in your future career, and in getting accepted for training programmes.

Summary

The truth is that only a select few get to pursue the dream of becoming an astronaut. It’s gruelling, and competitive. But what could be more fulfilling than the opportunity to explore space and push the boundaries of human existence? For those who truly yearn for space, training to become an astronaut is a noble pursuit.

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