Topline: NASA announced Tuesday it will hire more astronauts who could potentially blast off in 2024’s planned mission to the moon, as the agency embarks on the Artemis program designed to put the first humans on Mars by the 2030’s, a goal set by the Trump administration.
- Qualified candidates include American citizens with a master’s degree in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics from an accredited institution.
- NASA will also accept candidates with two years of a Ph.D. program under their belt, or a completed doctor of medicine (or orthopedic medicine) degree, or who have completed a nationally recognized test pilot school program.
- In addition to academic credentials, candidates must have a minimum of two years of professional experience and 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command flight time in jets.
- Candidates must also pass NASA’s physical test, as well as two years of the basic training program, in addition to completing military water survival and becoming SCUBA certified, along with passing robotics skills and Russian language training, among other requirements.
- Besides hiring astronauts, NASA will need to build a lunar lander (which it currently does not have) and should be awarding a government contract for the lander by March, according to NPR.
- NASA’s hiring plans followed earlier news Tuesday that Elon Musk’s SpaceX has hired William Gerstenmaier, the former leader of the agency’s human spaceflight programs.
Big number: $55,000 to $120,000. That’s how much astronauts hired from the private sector can expect to be paid, according to NASA guidelines. The agency calculates pay ranges based on the candidate’s academic achievements and experience. (Astronauts hired from the military follow a different pay grade.)
Key background: NASA hired its first seven astronauts in 1959 for the Mercury program. Since then more than200 missions have been flown and nearly 500 astronauts have served the agency. No humans have landed on the moon, however, since the U.S. achieved the 1972 landing. Before President Trump spurred the 2024 moon mission, then-President George W. Bush said in 2004 that NASA should aim for a return to the moon by 2020, which did not happen. During his two terms, President Barack Obama was more focused on an eventual Mars mission than in returning to the moon. In March 2019, Vice President Mike Pence said NASA should aim to land on the moon in 2024. At the time, NASA had been working towards a 2028 moon mission, which means Pence’s announcement moved up the deadline by four years. In September 2019, NASA’s replacement for Gerstenmaier, Doug Loverro, said he was “highly confident” the U.S. can make the 2024 deadline.
Tangent: Astronaut Christina Koch returned to Earth February 6 after breaking the record for the longest spaceflight ever achieved by a woman, at 328 days. NASA also plans to put the first woman on the moon during the 2024 mission.