Spaceflight

An exhaust plume surrounds the mobile launcher platform on Launch Pad 39A as space shuttle Atlantis lifts off on the STS-132 mission.
An exhaust plume surrounds the mobile launcher
platform on Launch Pad 39A as space shuttle
Atlantis lifts off on the STS-132 mission.
Credit: NASA/Tony Gray and Tom Farrar

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One of the most famous space careers is of course being an astronaut. Most people have dreamed what it would be like to travel to space and explore the Universe.

Although some astronauts do have astrophysics degrees, it is a career path with many entry points. NASA requires its astronauts to have advanced degrees in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) subject.

Lots of astronauts are pilots first, but there are many others who join because of their knowledge of a subject. During a STEM degree you gain technical and problem-solving skills which are useful to astronauts. You must also be physically and mentally healthy, in order to cope with extreme situations.

Astronauts must be skilled in different topics in order to carry out their jobs. This can involve carrying out medical experiments or fixing machinery - even if that involves going outside in a spacesuit!

If you’d like to hear more about what is needed to become an astronaut why not read our interview with Dr Jackie Bell who took part in the BBC series, “Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes?”.

In the career profiles on this page, you can find out how some astronauts got the job!

Name Nationality Research Areas
Hazza Al Mansouri

Emirati

Aviation

Mae Jemison

American

Chemical Engineering, Medicine

Samantha Cristoforetti

Italian

Mechanical Engineering, Aviation, Aeronautics

Tim Peake

British

Flight Dynamics, Aviation

Valeri Polyakov

Russian

Medicine, Spaceflight