What kind of career should I start if I want to be an astronaut pilot?

First astronauts were military aircraft pilots. Since those days, automatic flying was present in the spacecraft so that someone considered astronauts like spam in a can for their supposed role as passenger.

Is something changed today for astronauts that have pilot role (piloting a spacecraft) or alternative careers can lead to this position? According to this question context, also being a civil pilot is a different professional path.

  • $\begingroup$ Are you specifically asking for astronauts who are piloting a spacecraft? Just to rule this out, not all astronauts, who fly into space, are qualified as a pilot (neither for space- nor aircraft). $\endgroup$
    – s-m-e
    Aug 19, 2013 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ Aerospace engineering AND you should also be a flyer. Regardless of what there is to pilot up there, tolerating high-gee is a must. Flyers tend to be disciplined (if one isn't one dies or drops out). Aerospace engineering is for the brains (although ISS crew are mostly glorified plumbers). $\endgroup$ Aug 19, 2013 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ And on top of them, you will want good mathematics, practical problem solving skills (similarly to antarctic scientists - being able to fix a problem with whatever is to hand is essential when you only have the resources around you and no way to get more in a short timeframe), physics will be useful, high level of fitness... $\endgroup$
    – Rory Alsop
    Aug 19, 2013 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ Start by becoming fluent in Chinese or Russian. I'm only partially kidding. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Aug 20, 2013 at 9:16
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    $\begingroup$ There are no real piloting roles right now. The only manned spacecraft are soyuz and shenzhou, and these are pretty automated. $\endgroup$
    – Innovine
    May 19, 2017 at 15:07

1 Answer 1


If you look at the qualifications of U.S. pilot astronauts (not mission or payload specialists) since the original Mercury 7 in the 60's, the overwhelming majority have been military (or ex-military) test pilots with advanced engineering or science degrees. Based on the bios of the most recent astronaut selectees (see picture), that's still true.

2013 NASA Astronaut class

Your best bet would be to start with the Air Force or Naval Academy (or ROTC equivalent at a place like MIT), with an engineering major, followed by flight school, test pilot school, graduate degree in something like engineering or applied physics.

NASA Astronaut Requirements

Obviously, a whole lot easier said than done.

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    $\begingroup$ And, consider other options. It goes without speaking that only a tiny fraction of those who aim to be astronauts, actually make it. $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Aug 19, 2013 at 23:15
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    $\begingroup$ The vast majority of future American "astronaut pilots" are likely to be employees of private corporations. These are still likely to come from this answers posited sources, but with some variation on the skill set. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Aug 20, 2013 at 9:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Erik I second that. Going forward into the future there will first be more private pilots, then eventually more pilots in general. But they will still probably come from the same basic pool for a while. Privately employed space pilot positions do however slightly increase the chances that a non-military background person could get accepted. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Aug 20, 2013 at 13:37
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage agreed. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Aug 20, 2013 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ OP could also become a billionaire and fund his own space company. $\endgroup$ Mar 19, 2019 at 20:06