So what is an astronaut? The term astronaut comes from the words ‘space’ and ‘sailor’. NASA calls humans that travel on space mission’s astronauts. In a way they can be thought of as "space sailors". The astronauts have different roles in the spacecraft. The categories the astronauts are organized into are commander, pilot, mission specialist, or payload specialist. In order to become an astronaut you must also be a US citizen.
Commander astronauts are important in the Space Shuttle and International Space Stations. During the flight, the commander is responsible for the vehicle, crew, mission success, and safety of flight. In order to become a Commander you must have certain requisites. You must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics. In order to be accepted you must have a very impressive resume, because becoming a commander is the most competitive of all the positions in the space craft. In addition you must have experience in a jet aircraft.
In addition to having mental capabilities, you must be able to pass a NASA space physical! This test is designed to be similar to a military physical. You must be around 5' 3" at the least, with proper vision and good blood pressure.
Personally I was expecting a more grueling process physically but it shows it is more important to have mental capacity.
Secondly, the mission specialist astronauts work with the commander and need to manage the systems, crew activity planning, consumables usage, and experiment/payload operations. They perform the tasks that the commanders tell them to. They are also responsible for bigger picture mission aims as well. For example they take care of the activities they need to perform on the shuttle, the food, other consumables, and conduct mission objectives. In order to prepare, they must learn of all aspects of operational characteristics, mission requirements and objectives. Mission specialists will perform extravehicular activities, and typically conduct any experiments or remedial tasks.
In order to be capable for a position as a mission specialist you must have the following (from the NASA website):
1. Bachelor's degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics. Degree must be followed by at least three years of related, progressively responsible, professional experience. An advanced degree is desirable and may be substituted for part or all of the experience requirement (master's degree = 1 year of experience, doctoral degree = 3 years of experience). Quality of academic preparation is important.
2. Ability to pass a NASA space physical, which is similar to a military or civilian flight physical and includes the following specific standards:
Distance visual acuity: 20/200 or better uncorrected, correctable to 20/20, each eye.
Blood pressure: 140/90 measured in a sitting position.
3. Height between 58.5 and 76 inches.
The final astronaut position is the payload specialist. A payload specialist is someone who is not a classically trained astronaut but has specialized onboard duties. To draw from an example from class, in the movie Armageddon, the employees of the drilling company would be considered payload specialists. They are put into the crew if activities that involve unique requirements are involved, however typically payload specialists are not frequently included and first priority always goes to mission specialist with the skill set they are looking for. Because payload specialists are not part of the typical Astronaut Program, there are far less formal requirements for them. However, they still must pass certain physical requirements.
Becoming an astronaut is something that is extremely selective; however, if you are committed to your studies and keep your eyes on the prize, you can do it! Finally, with regards to my astronaut dream, it is still alive!