The moment is finally here. After months of obsessing over our applications to “#BeAnAstronaut,” we will finally be released from worry by the closing of the announcement! Rumor has it that over 8,000 people have already applied to be a member of the NASA Astronaut Class of 2017. If NASA selects 8 Astronaut Candidates (like last time) then we need to show off what makes us 1 in 1,000+. How does someone make the cut between “Highly Qualified” and “Better luck next time”? Since we still have a day or so to fiddle with our resumes, here are a few tips for folks like me who just can’t stop wondering if their application could use a last, little bit of polish.
DISCLAIMER: I am neither an expert nor a member of the Astronaut Selection Board; this is my first time applying, and at least one astronaut applied fifteen times before being selected. Over the years, however, my friends at NASA and I have had many conversations with folks related to astronaut selection. This is a compilation of the advice garnered in these many conversations – which I am passing along to help my fellow astronaut hopefuls reach for the stars! (Yes, I’m cheesy, too.)
The Number One Question any reviewer asks: Would I want to go to space with this person? Astronauts spend days in small capsules with their crewmates. The Space Station, though it has the volume of a 3-bedroom home, is still a relatively small, confined space isolated from the rest of humanity. Evaluating whether an applicant would fare well in these circumstances – whether they’d get along with their crew, be productive, stay calm under stress, etc. – is understandably a key consideration in the selection of astronauts.
Answering that question via the current application system requires you to be a bit of a resume Jedi. If you’re reading this you probably already know that the application itself is technically quite simple, which is a big change from the astronaut applications of old. There’s no personal statement, no cover letter, no “why I want to be an astronaut” section. It is, simply, your resume in the standard USA Jobs format. In this case, though, you’re applying for a highly unique job (understatement of the century) and it’s important to keep yourself from being confined to the “resume box.” Astronauts need a broad skillset, and some of the important skills – like how good you are at fixing things – may be hard to communicate via a traditional resume. As astronaut Cady Coleman told me, “If you think it’s important [to answering the questions below], find a place to highlight it,” even if you have to be creative with your resume’s content.
In addition to the “big question” above, here are some specific questions a potential reviewer might ask as they look over your application:
- Does this person have “operational” experience? Do they have experience working in isolation?
- How well does their work experience relate to being an astronaut?
- Can this person adapt to new situations and environments? Space is a new environment for most people. (Understatement of the century #2.)
- Is this person handy? Can they fix things and follow directions? As a former ISS flight controller, I know from experience that astronauts spend a lot of time fixing things – including the space toilet. They also have to follow procedures to correctly run research experiments, so following directions well is key!
- Can this person learn new languages?
- Is this person a team player? As Duane Ross said in his interview with Popular Science, “Everything we do at JSC and the other centers is a team effort, whether a big team or as small as a flight crew.”
- Do they have the ability to push themselves physically and mentally?
- Would this person be a good representative of NASA?
You’re off to a good start if your application addresses these questions. I hope that sharing this compiled advice helps you put your best foot forward and, perhaps, end up on a spaceship someday. Good luck!
Now, off to proofread my application one more time…
In addition to personal communications, this post also draws from two sources:
 Hadhazy, A. “Popular Science Q&A: How NASA Selected the 2013 Class of Astronauts” Popular Science. 31 Jan. 2013
 Anderson, C. C. (2015). The Ordinary Spaceman: From Boyhood Dreams to Astronaut. U of Nebraska Press.