How do I become both an astronaut and an astronomer? (Intermediate)

My question is what if you want to become an astronomer and an astronaut? Do you have to get different degress in both? I want to go to the moon, and when I return I want to study the Solar System. What kind of fields should I look into? Somebody once told me that you have to be experienced in that field and maybe the Air Force Academy would probably be the best choice. I'm a Junior and I need the answers to cure my curiosity.

Usually to become an astronaut you need a degree in some field of science or medicine - not necessarily astronomy but it can be astronomy. No school offers a degree relating to being an astronaut directly. Instead, NASA looks at what you've done in your chosen field of science, and selects based on your past experience. NASA then trains the astronauts for a couple years, and then allows them to be put on specific missions. Tom Jones, a former astronaut, spoke at Cornell, and I believe he said something about how NASA looks for people who have a degree in science but have had a couple different jobs - this indicates flexibility and the ability to learn new things.

Another way to become an astronaut is to be the pilot. For this you need air force training because you need a lot of flight training and experience with military aircraft. However, to be an astronomer you need a physics or astronomy degree and research experience in astronomy. If you really want to be a pilot, the Air Force seems like a good choice. The Air Force Academy does have a physics major as well, so it might be possible to become a pilot and an astronomer, although I really don't know much about their physics program. Anyway, if you really want to do astronomy and be an astronaut, you should probably major in a science field in college, and then apply for the astronaut job later.

I hope this helps! You might want to search around and read about the subject since I'm not an astronaut and so my response is based on what I've heard before from others.

More information on astronauts can be found at the following sites:

Biographies of Astronauts

NASA's Astronaut Requirements

How to Become an Astronaut 101, by Astronaut Lt. Col. Cady Coleman

NASA's Astronaut Selection Program

Page last updated on June 19, 2015.

About the Author

Lynn Carter

Lynn uses radar astronomy to study the planets, especially Venus. She got her PhD in Astronomy from Cornell in Summer 2004 and is now working at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. on the Mars Express radar.

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