Astronaut Selection

I wish I was writing this post to say I have been selected as an Astronaut Candidate (or ASCAN as they are called), but I’m afraid that’s (most likely) not the case. No, instead I am writing a much more useful post...why NOT being selected doesn’t matter. I’m not just saying this because I wasn’t selected, I’m saying that it doesn’t matter because that is how I have chosen to approach my attempt at becoming an astronaut. The reason I am sharing this approach is because I think it’s a philosophy that is useful in many other applications and not just for those aiming to become an astronaut.

First of all, how do I know I haven’t been selected? I don’t. The official timeline for the current round of selections is below:

Nov 15 2011:           Announcement of selection opportunity

Jan 27 2012:            Announcement closes (applications are due)

May-Sept 2012:       Applicants reviewed to determine Highly Qualified applicants. Highly Qualified applicant’s supervisors and references are contacted by mail and civilian Highly Qualified applicants are sent an FAA medical exam request by mail

Aug-Nov 2012: Highly Qualified applicants reviewed to determine interviewees

Go here to see the rest of the selection timeline...

To my knowledge, my supervisor and my references have not been contacted and I know that many of the other applicant’s references have been contacted and other applicants have received the request to obtain an FAA physical examination. According to the schedule and according to a person that works as part of the astronaut selection team the first round of down-selecting won’t be complete until there is still a chance. I’m not giving up by any means, but more than likely I didn’t make the cut this time around...and if I didn’t I’ll keep on trying! This round of astronaut candidate selection had the 2nd largest number of applicants in the history of NASA astronaut selections...6300 applicants! If you want to learn more about how the selection process works and what happens to the candidates after selection all way up until their first flight visit the NASA astronaut website.

So why am I, someone whose favorite movie (Gattaca) has a character that is willing to:

  • Purchase someone else’s identity
  • Have surgery on his own legs in order to match the height of his new identity’s profile
  • Memorize orbital mechanics books
  • Risk his life (imminent heart failure due to a possible flaw in his heart) by competing against his brother in swimming contests and performing routine physical examinations as part of his employment as an astronaut

not willing to go to similar extremes on his quest to become an astronaut. The truth is, I am willing to go to extremes if they will help...but many of them don’t. I’ve had the privilege to both work with and meet many astronauts over the years and they all give me the same advice on how to maximize my chances of becoming an astronaut. Listen up, because this advice applies to life in general and not just the lofty pursuit of reaching for the stars! The advice is simple, work hard to become an expert at something you love. Be the best at SOMETHING. That’s it. That’s the secret recipe for becoming an astronaut. The competition is incredibly tough, so those that are selected are almost always without fail an expert of some kind in their particular field. It’s not so much that it’s a requirement to be some kind of an expert, but more so that the type of person that is able to achieve the title of “expert” is also the kind of person that is able to excel at flying into the unforgiving environment of space, making life and death decisions under pressure, and conducting extremely complicated tasks with crew mates who don’t speak your native language.

So I made myself a promise back before I even graduated with my undergraduate degree...I was not going to pursue advanced degrees and make career choices that looked good on paper just for the sake of increasing my odds at being selected as an astronaut. Instead I was going to go out and do things I am passionate about to the absolute best of my ability and ENJOY the journey. No destination is worth sacrificing everything in order to arrive, because if you arrive at your ultimate destination a mentally exhausted or unhappy person you don’t get to enjoy your “achievement.” One of the most important qualifications of an astronaut is being a well rounded person and you can’t achieve that unless your life in is balance. So my advice to everyone (advice that I personally live by) is to “save nothing for the swim back.” Pour everything you have into something you love and don’t look back!

Would love to hear what you all think about this advice! Is it sound? Also, if you have any questions about the process of applying to become an astronaut I would be more than happy to share what I me via my contact page or on Twitter!

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