Astronauts have been capturing the popular imagination since the early 1960s. Travelling into space is one of the most extraordinary things a person can do, but for a very select group of people, it is their job. While most astronauts would probably agree that they are not in it for the money, they get paid a salary just like in any other worker. Astronauts can be civilians or members of the military, but either way they are individuals with highly specialised skills.
Civilian Astronaut Salary
Although civilian astronauts have extraordinary jobs, their pay is based on the Federal Government's General Schedule for grades GS-12 to GS-13. As of 2010, a civilian astronaut earns between £42,341 and £65,455 per year based on qualifications and length of service.
Federal employees are also eligible for life, health, dental, and vision insurance, in addition to enrolment in the Thrift Savings Plan retirement program.
Military Astronaut Salary
Military astronauts are based in the Johnson Space Center and come from the Air Force, Navy, Army and even the Coast Guard. Although many are pilots, military astronauts can be mission specialists as well. Their pay is based on military rank and years of service. Military astronauts also receive benefits such as low cost insurance
Applying to be an Astronaut
There are two basic types of astronauts. Pilot astronauts and mission specialists. Pilot astronauts must have over 1,000 hours in a jet aircraft to qualify, and mission specialists must have three years of experience in their field.
Otherwise, the requirements to be an astronaut are not very restrictive, but out of thousands of applications, NASA only chooses 15 to 25 people to undergo astronaut training every two years.
All potential astronauts are required to be within 5 feet tall (5-feet, 4 inches for pilot astronauts) and 6 feet, 4 inches. According to NASA, all applicants must also possess at least a bachelor's degree in engineering, a biological science, a physical science or mathematics.
Training to be an Astronaut
After astronaut candidates are selected, they must undergo one year of training before they become full fledged astronauts. The World Book at NASA states that astronauts in training will learn about aerodynamics, physics, physiology, computer science and other subjects, as well as spend hours each month piloting a T-38 jet aircraft. Astronaut candidates will also undergo survival training in order to prepare them for unplanned and hazardous landings.
During basic and advanced mission training, astronaut candidates will learn how to manoeuvre in space, experience weightlessness and spend long hours in training simulators as well as full sized models of spacecraft.
The Future of Astronauts
In the past astronauts have orbited the Earth, set foot on the moon, and lived on space stations. But with the last space shuttle mission scheduled to take place in 2011, the future of astronauts is increasingly unclear. In the immediate future, the only spaceflight available to U.S. astronauts will be for long missions aboard the space station aboard the Russian Soyuz capsule.
With NASA currently employing around 80 astronauts and nine candidates, there will be a lot of astronauts for a few trips to space. While there has been talk of going back to the moon or Mars, for the time being it appears that there could be a lot of astronauts with nothing to do, or waiting in the unemployment line.
- NASA Astronaut FAQs: What is an Astronaut's Salary?
- World Book at NASA: Astronaut
- U.S. Air Force: Pay Chart - Officer
- NPR: Without Shuttles, Astronauts' Careers May Stall
- "The Christian Science Monitor"; Space Shuttle Discovery on its Last Mission: Where to Watch the Launch; Clara Moskowitz; Nov. 1, 2010
- USA.gov: Benefits, Leave and Pay
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images