FORT MEADE, Md. – Here’s a chance to swap your combat uniform for a spacesuit. The Army is searching for astronaut candidates – any Soldier, enlisted or officer, who is qualified can apply.
About 200 Soldiers applied for the previous NASA Astronaut Candidate Program, noted Lt. Col. Anne McClain, who spent six months in space last year. “We’re hoping for a lot more this iteration,” she said.
Those interested can find qualification details and application requirements in Military Personnel Message 20-062. The deadline for submission is March 31.
After highly qualified applicants are chosen, they will go through a long screening process. The first round of interviews is slated for this fall, followed by a second round next spring. The final class, which will consist of candidates from the other services as well as civilians, will be picked by summer 2021.
Candidates will then spend about two years in basic astronaut training, which includes skills from spacewalking and robotics to leadership and teamwork. After that, they will be eligible for a spaceflight assignment, according to NASA.
Maj. Frank Rubio, who was selected as a candidate in 2017, is the last Soldier to complete the training. He is currently awaiting a flight assignment. Col. Drew Morgan, who was selected in 2013 along with McClain, is now aboard the ISS and has already conducted seven spacewalk missions so far in his nine-month mission.
Several retired Army officers are still active in the astronaut program, including former Col. Pat Forrester, who serves as the chief of NASA’s astronaut office.
“We’ve been very fortunate that the Army applicants have been very successful thus far,” McClain said. “That’s why we want to cast the net as wide as we can throughout the Army and get even more new enrollees.”
Soldiers, she added, have certain traits that make them valuable as astronauts.
“What the Army brings to the table, just like (everywhere else) they go, is leadership and the ability to work in teams in arduous environments,” she said.
McClain strongly recommends to those interested in applying a meticulous description of experiences on their resume since those reviewing the documents may not have military knowledge.
“What leadership training do you have; what team skills do you have? Every Soldier in the Army has leadership skills, so put that on paper,” she advised.
She also suggests highlighting all technical skills, whether that means a Soldier worked on Humvees or helicopters, or turned a wrench on another piece of equipment. Applicants should cite instances when they’ve carried out these technical skills in remote areas, which astronauts are required to do while out in space.
“Describe those things to people who are not necessarily in the Army,” she said. “I know most Soldiers have the skills we’re looking for, and I just really encourage them to communicate that on their resume.”
If not picked this time around, applicants should not be discouraged. McClain pointed out she had to apply twice before being selected. Another astronaut in her class applied four times. “It’s easy to give up,” she said. “It's hard to keep going, but it’s worthwhile.”
The former OH-58D Kiowa Warrior pilot fondly recalled the spacewalks during her recent mission. She said they reminded her of flying in a scout weapons team. While out in space, she was responsible for not only herself in a risky setting, but also her spacesuit that operates like a small spacecraft, as well as a fellow astronaut and their suit.
“Overall, we had to use all of this equipment to accomplish an overarching goal as part of a bigger task at hand,” McClain said.
Unlike her previous helicopter missions, however, the “view was much better up there,” she said with a laugh. “You step back and look down … and see your own feet dangling with the entire Earth behind them. It was just a really magical moment.”
McClain reemphasized the point about applications being open to officers and enlisted.
“We get very few applicants who are warrants and NCOs,” she said. “So, we really want to emphasize that branch doesn’t matter and rank doesn’t matter. We want folks to throw their hat in the ring if this is something they have a strong interest in doing.”