Career Detail

Commander/Pilot Astronaut
“Exploring Beyond Our Planet”
Pilot astronauts serve as both space shuttle commanders and pilots. During flight, the commander has onboard responsibility for the vehicle, crew, mission success, and safety of flight.
The Job
The pilot assists the commander in controlling and operating the vehicle and may assist in the deployment and retrieval of satellites using the remote manipulator system (RMS), referred to as the robot arm or mechanical arm.
Work Environment
Astronauts are responsible for technical duties and training at NASA when they are not training for a specific flight or conducting a mission.
College Majors
Bachelor's degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics.
Minimum Qualifications
Bachelor's degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics. An advanced degree is desirable. At least 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. Distant visual acuity: 20/100, Blood pressure: 140/90, Height between 64 and 76 inches.
Personality traits helpful for this career
Astronauts are expected to be team players and highly skilled generalists with just the right amount of individuality and self-reliance to be effective crew members.
Quick Facts
  • Becoming an astronaut is extremely competitive, with an average of more than 4,000 applicants for about 20 openings every two years. Astronaut recruiting occurs periodically.
  • Pilot astronauts must have at least 1,000 hours of experience in jet aircraft, and they need better vision than mission specialists.
  • Most pilot astronauts are test pilots from the United States Air Force, Navy, or Marine Corps. They are paid according to their military rank.
Compensation and Outlook
Salaries for civilian Astronaut Candidates are based on the Federal Government's General Schedule pay scale for grades GS-11 through GS-14. Each person's grade is determined according to his/her academic achievements and experience. Currently, a GS-11 starts at $59,493 per year and a GS-14 can earn up to $130,257 per year.
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