Expanding Space Exploration Fuels NASA’s Search for New Astronautical Talent

April 30, 2024

With a target date of late 2024, NASA’s Artemis mission will land the first new class of astronauts, including the first woman, on the moon since 1972, more than 50 years ago. Through scientific research, resource optimization, and international collaboration, this historic endeavor aims to reignite lunar exploration and public support for celestial study by establishing a sustainable human presence on the Moon. To pull it off, NASA has carefully selected a new team of astronauts to reflect the gravity of the mission. These intrepid explorers, armed with the right blend of education and specialized expertise, will undergo rigorous training and examination, preparing them to take the giant leap that will usher in a new era of space exploration.

NASA’s Search for New Astronautical Talent

NASA’s expansion of human exploration in our solar system requires more astronauts than the space agency currently has – and as NASA embarks on new ambitious missions, the need for skilled astronauts grows. Now, the agency has recruited their first class of new astronauts for this exciting new mission to land on the moon – the first ever since the Apollo Mission ended in 1972. Over time, astronauts retire or transition to other roles, requiring NASA to backfill its ranks with new talent. This increase in the number and scope of missions demands that the agency recruit more pilots, engineers, doctors, and scientists with diverse backgrounds and expertise to create a well-rounded team capable of handling the complex challenges of space exploration.

Even though the last application cycle saw more than 12,000 applicants for just 10 coveted positions, it isn’t easy for NASA to find the right candidates. Over 70% of engineering and research-focused companies report talent gaps, primarily as the older generation retires and mid-career engineers transition to non-engineering roles. Tech giants like Alphabet, Amazon, SpaceX, and Microsoft also compete for similar talent and drive even higher attrition rates.

The skills NASA is looking for in its astronautical candidates are highly sought after across nearly every industry, but a significant number of positions in aerospace engineering and defense remain unfilled. It is critical for the agency to balance the exclusivity of its program against its need to attract enough potential candidates to be sure the right candidates move forward.

Becoming an Astronaut at NASA

To be considered in NASA’s astronaut pool, candidates must be a U.S. citizen, have a master’s degree in a STEM field, have a minimum of three years of related professional experience, and undergo rigorous physical and psychological evaluations. Qualified candidates complete a series of interviews and reviews. If selected, they then undergo a two-year training program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, covering skills such as spacewalking, robotics, and teamwork. Upon completing their training, graduates become eligible for assignments to the International Space Station, Artemis lunar missions, and eventually, Mars missions.

To stand out, candidates should consider earning doctoral degrees and taking specialized coursework in areas related to astronautical sciences. If possible, candidates should seek to specialize in a specific domain, such as satellite systems, space exploration, or rocket propulsion. Similarly, completing hands-on internships and research, joining professional organizations like the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and learning to use simulation software for modeling and analyzing spacecraft systems can better position aspiring astronauts for selection.

The Role of Astronauts in The Future of Space Exploration

Artemis will set the stage to send humans deeper into space than ever before and for an eventual mission to Mars. For example, within the Artemis program, the Dragonfly mission will use a “drone-like craft to explore the prebiotic chemistry and habitability of dozens of sites on Saturn’s moon Titan,” advancing our search for the building blocks of life. NASA’s planned mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa aims to “investigate whether this icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life.” And support for the Joint Polar Satellite System-2 will ensure continued operations of satellite-based observations that play a crucial role in monitoring Earth’s weather, climate, and environmental changes from space.

The James Webb Space Telescope, which has already produced some of the most scientifically important images of our cosmos, will probe for the “first light” after the Big Bang and study the foundational galaxies that formed the early Universe. Additionally, it will observe stars forming planetary systems and search for the chemical signatures of extraterrestrial life. 

New astronauts will play key roles in driving these missions forward, and these are just some of the missions that those selected will take on – and with exciting developments in space exploration being announced every year, there is no better time to begin your career in space studies.

Exploring Your Space Career with Capitol Tech

Capitol Technology University’s Aviation and Astronautical Sciences programs teach cutting-edge skills in aviation and space engineering, aerospace cybersecurity, digital solutions and analytics, aircraft safety and maintenance, as well as cost-reduction and industry-specialized management expertise to meet current and future demands. Our partnerships with top experts and organizations, including the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), provide a pipeline to top organizations advancing the frontier of space exploration like NASA, U.S. Space Command, GE Aviation, KBR Aerospace & Defense, and more.

For more information on how to get started, contact our Admissions team.