Britons in space: how do I become an astronaut?

The UK has reversed its policy of unmanned space missions, meaning Britons can now become astronauts

Tim Peake
(Image credit: 2013 AFP)

After decades of unmanned space exploration, the British government has announced a new strategy to get Britons to the International Space Station and beyond.

The UK has historically taken a pragmatic approach to space, preferring more cost-effective robotic operations and commercial satellite missions to those involving astronauts.

Now, however, science minister Jo Johnson has signalled a change to that policy.

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"From new advances in healthcare to getting our young people really excited about science, human spaceflight has the potential to deliver a huge range of benefits here on Earth," said Johnson.

Tim Peake of Chichester, a former army helicopter pilot, will be the first Briton to benefit from the policy shift, with his November mission to the International Space Station fully financed by the UK government.

After Peake returns, other British citizens are expected to follow, The Times reports. So what does it take to be an astronaut?


According to Nasa's list of astronaut requirements, the first qualification all astronauts need is a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics. The US space agency says that it prefers advanced degrees and that "quality of academic preparation is important".


As well as education, Nasa looks for physically fit candidates for its astronaut programme, with blood pressure at 140/90 measured in a sitting position. Prospective commanders or pilots must also have good eyesight, with vision no worse than 20/100, correctable to 20/20 in each eye.


People who are either too tall or too short need not apply to become an astronaut. Nasa pilots must come within a height range of 5'1" and 6'2" and mission specialists (those astronauts with duties that generally do not include flying) must be between 4'9" and 6'3".


Nasa pilots must also have more than 1,000 hours of flight time under their belt before applying to the agency's recruitment program.

Nasa will also sometimes seek people with specific training required for a particular mission, which it calls "payload specialists". These astronauts may have different experience to astronauts who have been been put through Nasa's official astronaut candidate program, but they must still meet many of the same physical requirements.

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