A starman's guide to becoming an astronaut
So you want to be starman? You're going to need a few things along the way. Three things to be precise, according to astronaut Chris Hadfield.
“Good morning, Earth.” That is how Colonel Chris Hadfield—writing on Twitter—woke up the world every day while living aboard the International Space Station for over five months. Since blasting off from Kazakhstan in December 2012, Hadfield has become a worldwide sensation, harnessing the power of social media to make outer space accessible to millions and infusing a sense of wonder into the collective consciousness not felt since man first walked on the moon. Called “the most famous astronaut since Neil Armstrong” by the BBC, Hadfield, now safely back on Earth, continues to bring the glory of science and space travel to everyone he encounters.
Hadfield is the pioneer of many firsts. In 1992, he was selected by the Canadian Space Agency as a NASA Mission Specialist – Canada’s first fully-qualified Space Shuttle crewmember. Three years later, he was the first Canadian to operate the Canadarm in space, and the first Canadian to board a Russian spacecraft as he helped build the Russian space station ‘Mir’. In 2001, he performed two spacewalks - the first Canadian to do so - and in 2010 the CSA and NASA announced Hadfield’s third mission: commanding the International Space Station (ISS)—again a first for a Canadian.
Hadfield launched into space on December 19, 2012 and took command of the ISS in March. His multiple daily Tweets and photographs from space made people see the world differently. His accessibility, whether answering questions such as, “How do you wring out a washcloth in space,” via Skype or collaborating with The Barenaked Ladies for a song sung by nearly a million people simultaneously, endeared him to all while he orbited Earth.
A heavily decorated astronaut, engineer, and pilot, Hadfield’s many awards include receiving the Order of Ontario, the Meritorious Service Cross, and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal. He was named the top Test Pilot in both the US Air Force and the US Navy, and has been inducted into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame. He is also commemorated on Canadian postage stamps, Royal Canadian Mint silver and gold coins, and on Canada’s new 5 dollar bill.
Chris Hadfield: If you want to be an astronaut there are three main things that are important: number one is simple, just physical. How healthy is your body?
If you’re going to get on a spaceship and leave earth then it’s really difficult to go see a doctor or to get to a hospital, and so we need people to be healthy. Part of that is just a roll of the dice. What sort of make up is your body? Are you a person with a problem you were born with? If so then maybe you’re not going to be an astronaut. Maybe you’re not going to be in the NBA, maybe you’re not going to be whatever, you are who you are.
But given that you have a certain body you can do a few things obviously: think about what you eat. You get a choice every time you put something in your mouth, so eat food that’s good for you. And then exercise a little bit. Take the stairs. Don’t drag your bad carry your bag. Walk. Climb. Go for a run. Do something every day a little bit physical. It doesn’t take much, but if you’re careful about what you eat and you do a couple physical things every day, then you’re taking care of your body. That’s step one.
Number two is: flying spaceships is complicated, it’s technical, and so if NASA is saying “who are we going to pick to be an astronaut?” you want to pick someone who has proven their ability to learn complicated things. You don’t want to pick someone “what, you don’t know how to learn this?”
But if you pick someone that has a doctorate in astrophysics and also repairs their 1955 Thunderbird in their own garage, this is a person that knows how to do technical things. They can learn complex theory and they can get in there with their hands and do stuff.
So the second part is plan to always be a student learning complicated things. Try and gain qualifications that show that you can learn complicated stuff, so plan on an advanced technical university agree. It’s just like your ticket of entry.
The third though, we don’t just want to hire healthy students, the third is can you make good decisions and stick with them, especially when there’s very high consequence? If something really serious is happening, are you the person that can make the right call, make the right decision? And that’s a skill. Learning to make decisions is a skill.
You can get better at it, or you can always go, “that’s above my pay grade” or “nah, I don’t need to decide that”. You can do that, but then you are not learning how to actually make a decision and stick with your own convictions.
So you can start small. Just decide “next month on the first of the month I am going to do something different with my life.” “I’m going to wear black every day for the whole month.” “I’m going to do 100 push-ups every day for the whole month.” “I’m going to read 20 pages of Shakespeare every month.” “I’m going to learn five words of Japanese every day this month.”
Make a decision. Stick with it. By the end of the month you will have changed you are. And if you choose not to, you will have also changed who you are, but in some random direction.
So learning how to make decisions and stick with them as the stakes get higher and higher is also something we’re really looking for in astronaut selection. So those are the three main things: take care of your body, get advanced complex technical training (preferably to at least a masters degree at the university level), and make decisions and stick with them, show that you’re a person that can make the right call when the chips are down, and then hopefully NASA will give you a call.
So you want to be starman? You're going to need a few things along the way. Three things to be precise, according to astronaut Chris Hadfield. Good health (because there are no hospitals in space), the ability to learn complicated things (because it actually is rocket science), and the ability to make good decisions under pressure (because the stakes are pretty high in outer space). It's essential to always remain a student if you're an astronaut (in training), because science and technology advance at a very fast rate, and you've got to keep up because plenty of other people want to be astronauts too.
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