Who is an Astronaut?
At some point in our lives, we all have wondered about outer space and imagined what it would be like to see the earth from there. Hollywood has given us vivid visualization of this scenario with movies like gravity, Apollo 13 etc. I am sure many of us wished to be an astronaut in our childhood but then we grew up and the challenges of life push us into different paths. But what if you are at a stage where you can make this dream a reality. What actually you need to do to become an astronaut, especially if you are from India. Let’s find out.
An astronaut is a person who gets proper training so that he can travel to Outer Space and explores the vast Universe on behalf of the millions of humans on Earth, they perform activities, research about potential life on other planets, and keep a check on the variations of the Universe and how they are affecting Earth. The present situation of the Universe is said to have begun from The Big Bang, when gases and gravity formed stars, galaxies, planets, etc. It has been discovered by Georges Lemaître (Belgian astronomer and cosmologist) that the universe is expanding since the Big Bang.
A little bit of backstory, Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut was the first human in space sent there in Vostok 1. This craft was launched by the Soviet Union, Russia on 12 April 1961. Over the years, NASA, Roscosmos, JAXA, ESA, and CSA are among the other Space research organizations that have been successful in sending humans into space. Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) founded by Vikram Sarabhai is a space research organization in India that is also on its way to send humans into space. The Indian Human Spaceflight Programme was started in 2007 by ISRO to develop the required technology to send a crewed orbital spacecraft into lower earth orbit. The first flight launch without any crew was planned on Dec 2021 with Gaganyaan spacecraft on a GSLV Mark III rocket. Till date, 553 people have been to space.
How to become an Astronaut?
One of the leading space mission organizations, NASA had a few guidelines to join as an astronaut and even an Indian had to tick those off till now .
- To join ISRO as an Astronaut one must be a legal citizen of India.
- You need to complete high school from a government-recognized school with a Science stream first of all.
- You next need to get a Bachelor’s/Master’s/PhD degree in the STEM field or Aeronautical/Aerospace engineering from any renounced college.
- You can also seek admission to the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (ISST). For this, you need to take an entrance exam – ISAT which requires the candidate to be adept knowledge of Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics. A good score for the exam is 170 or above. IIST also considers JEE Advanced top scorers as applicants in its institute.
- In ISAT, you can apply for a B/Tech or for a 5-year package which includes a B/Tech and Masters. This includes B/Tech in engineering Physics and a Master’s Degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics, etc.
- If you want to get higher education, you can get a PhD in Aerospace engineering or Aeronautical engineering.
- If you want to work for ISRO, you can also appear for ISRO Centralized Recruitment Board (ICRB) exam and join the space team after graduation.
- ISRO will prefer an experienced team of Air Force personnel for their first manned mission as the pilots have experience in flying aircraft. But eventually, astronauts will be sent to outer space.
Colleges in India that provide Bachelors/Masters Degree in Aerospace Engineering, Engineering Physics or Astrophysics.
- Indian Institute of Technology (IIT).
- SRM Institute of Science and Technology, Chennai.
- Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram.
Colleges outside India –
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge United States.
- Stanford University, Stanford United States.
- Harvard University, Cambridge United States.
Skills required to become an Astronaut.
- Aspirants seeking a future as an Astronaut in ISRO must speak fluent English and Russian.
- You must nurture a skill of Multi-tasking.
- Another important skill is the ability to remain calm under stress.
- Aspiring candidates must possess great observational skills.
- You will be in an alien environment with less than 7 other humans, this requires some self-confidence and leadership skills.
- Astronauts also need 1,000 hours of flying experience as a jet pilot as it is believed to help mould judgmental skills.
- Communication Skills, as communication is the key aspect when you are thousands of miles away, floating in an unknown emptiness.
What are the job opportunities as an Astronaut?
- Astronauts go into space to collect data and observe the behaviour of the sun, planets, distant galaxies, deep space objects, etc.
- Atmospheric Scientists gather data relating to the weather and climate of the Earth.
- Robotic arm operators operate the robotic arm working outside the space station through a view of the window using hand controllers. E.g. – Late Astronaut Kalpana Chawla.
- Command Module Pilot is the person who takes control of the spacecraft and orbits the moon while the rest of the crew members perform a walk on the moon. e.g. – Michael Collins.
- Engineers are also an important part of the team as most of the machinery in outer space needs to be checked and maintained regularly to avoid any fatality. e.g. – Buzz Aldrin.
- With experience, you can also become a chief astronaut in the career, where you will be able to lead missions. E.g. – Peggy Whitson.
- Up until now, there have been ISRO hasn’t sent any human into space. But in the US, the salary of an astronaut starts from $ 65K per year and can go up to $ 100K per year, depending on the experience of the person.
- Kalpana Chawla – The first female of Indian Origin to become an astronaut.
- Rakesh Sharma – Cosmonaut.
- Neil Armstrong – First man on Moon.
- Chris Hadfield - Canadian astronaut.
Day in the life of an Astronaut.
Being an Astronaut doesn’t mean getting to observe black holes, see stars forming in front of one’s eyes or catching glimpses of aliens here and there.
- It is a disciplined life up there. Living in space comes with the added feeling of floating altogether since there is no gravity in outer space! The day of an astronaut starts at 6 am (Greenwich Mean Time is followed in the Space station) after which meetings are done and tasks according to that are completed.
- Astronauts actually have to exercise twice daily to maintain a proper physique for when they return to Earth, as outer space has no gravity and would make them weak when they return to Earth.
- Astronauts have special areas that they all work on; however, every astronaut is adept with mostly everything, cooking, sending data collected onboard, etc as there is no other person to run the chores on their behalf.
- A Flight Engineer on the space station would go about dividing scientific research work among the crewmates, maintaining the machines, etc.
- An astronaut also has to work the robotic manipulations on the spacecraft when a supply craft comes with their essentials for the trip. They use the handles or the computer to control the docking system on the station.
- On rare occasions, Astronauts might also be required to go out of the space station, while being harnessed to the craft to perform maintenance or experiments.
- In the initial stages of the space missions, Astronauts also move in and out of the stations to perform dock and undock of the crafts.
- Since astronauts are away from other humans and their loved ones, they are encouraged to facetime with their family and friends and engage in fun activities in their free time.
Though the job of an Astronaut is extremely risky, it holds up the vast universe right in front of your eyes and is a whole different experience only a few humans and animals (yes, animals including 32 monkeys, dogs, jellyfishes, etc. have been to space without a degree) have had.