What Am I Doing to Become an Astronaut?

What Am I Doing to Become an Astronaut?

Since my last post about the core requirements for becoming an astronaut, a thought that's crossed my mind several times a day has been 'what am I actually doing to chase this dream?'

Seeing and hearing of the work of people like Alyssa Carson, who is renowned as an aspiring astronaut for the Mars Generation (the generation of incoming astronauts that very well could be the first to set foot on Mars) has made me realise that to take this dream seriously means putting in way more effort than I currently am.

If you've not heard of Alyssa Carson before, you can read about her here!

So, what do you actually need to do to get to the point where you can be accepted as an astronaut by a space agency or company? And as a student, how can you prepare for it during your academic life?

Reframing: It's a Goal, Not a Dream

Something I realised over the last couple of weeks, is that my mental framework for viewing this journey towards eventually becoming an astronaut, still has a few potential flaws.

See, to many of us, becoming an astronaut is such an implausible, impossible thing to achieve that it's very common for people to call it a dream. Even for the aspiring astronauts among us, it's easy to refer to it like that. But it can actually be quite a negative frame of mind, in my opinion.

Why? Because dreams aren't real. They're aspirational. They're ambitious. But at the end of the day, they're things you eventually wake up from.

sea of clouds

So instead, I chose to ask myself what it really meant for me to want to become an astronaut. And what I'd do to get there.

And it went from being a dream, to being a goal. Something to aim at, a desired result. Something I was actively pursuing.

By acknowledging the difference between those two labels, and forcing myself to reframe my mindset towards them, it helped me think about the daily habits - the fitness, the language learning, the technical training - as ways of reaching that goal, rather than just a random assortment of things I was doing, with the miniscule hope that maybe, my dream might come true.

Because to be serious about something like this, I believe you need to chase after it with a disproportionate amount of drive. I believe to some extent, it has to become an obsession.

The Physical Aspects

barbell on rack

Like I mentioned in my last post, there are things that fall under basic health and wellness, that if you do them, it’s likely you’ll meet the physical tick boxes to pass through to the later tests of astronaut selection.

That’s things like maintaining a healthy diet that has little to no ultra processed foods, drinking a lot of water, and exercising regularly.

I'm a big video-gamer, so often times when I'm setting myself any goal (especially physical fitness related ones) I like to think of them as quests with progressive difficulty that I have to complete.

person sitting on gaming chair while playing video game

If you're not a gamer, different video games tend to have a variety of challenges that make the experience fun - with a few core objectives that are always tracked to help you know what the next step in the adventure is. Some goals reset daily - some stay the same throughout.

Viewing my life through that lens helped me nail down exactly what was needed from me on a daily, weekly or monthly basis to get to my end goal of being physically fit.

It starts with the most basic of things - you don't need to be running 10k a day, or lifting obscene amounts in the gym. If you're just starting out, I believe as long as you can maintain a consistent daily habit, like getting yourself through the gym door and just running for a while - it's something you can continue to build on.

I can think of a time when I was in the bottom set of my PE class, struggling to keep up with people my age in school sports. I've now run a 5k 3/4 times since the start of the year, and my personal bests have been decreasing by 1/2 minutes each time.

Whatever level you're at, there's a way to get going.

When I first thought of laying out all the possible 'quests' I'd want to complete, I wrote them a little like this:

black and grey treadmill and stationary bikes

The Checklist:

  • Do 5 push-ups at home everyday (done)
  • Show up in the gym once a week (done)
  • Show up in the gym twice a week (done)
  • Show up in the gym 3 times a week (done)
  • Run a 5k (done)
  • Run a 5k regularly (done)
  • Run a 10k
  • Run a 10k regularly
  • Run a half marathon (~21km)
  • Run a half marathon regularly
  • Run a full marathon (42km)
  • Run a full marathon regularly
  • Run a triathlon
  • Run an ironman
  • Climb Everest
  • Hike to the North Pole
  • Hike to the South Pole
person standing in front of mountain

You can see the progressive difficulty - and you can also see the steps I've made in between the big goals (running a marathon etc.) that have helped me piece out what exactly will take me from where I am now to where I want to be.

The goals right at the bottom used to be dreams of mine - they're now things I genuinely want to aim for, and I think ambition in that sense can often be pretty inspiring, seeing the staircase of steps that you're climbing to eventually get to where you want to be.

The spots in the middle, with '...' between them, are places where I don't exactly know what the next step is. But I'm satisfied with the fact that I know what my current next step is, and I know when I get there, things will become even clearer. I can see the path forward a decent way, and all that matters is that I can see the next step.

The great thing is, you can apply this principle to other parts of your life. Here's another example:

a small airplane flying through a blue sky

Learning to Fly a Plane:

  • Do a trial flight in a light aircraft to get the initial experience
  • Buy a few lessons and get the basics
  • Do more lessons until you get to 10 hours
  • Fly your first solo
  • etc. etc.

It's all about progression. Set daily, weekly, monthly and yearly progression goals and do what works for you.

I’m slowly starting to make more changes to my daily life to put more of the physical training goals into practice, going off of fizzy drinks most days and trying to implement a daily home workout. Even for things such as hearing, sometimes that means not listening to things on full blast to protect my listening capability.

In terms of age, though there’s no hard requirement other than the 50 year limit set by the ESA, it’s helpful to work from the average. I have mentally told myself that by the time I’m 35, which is 2036, 12 years from now, I should be ready and capable of a full application to become an astronaut. And that goal helps me put a time limit, and a deadline, to the habits I have today.

The Mental Aspects

man and woman walking on brown sand under blue sky and white clouds during daytime

Mental fortitude, teamworking, resilience, motivation, handling isolation - these are all things that aspiring astronauts are required to develop. But the ways in which these things can be done is so diverse that it's often hard to lay out a specific plan for doing it.

When I first acknowledged that I wanted to develop some sort of mental training regimen for the goal of becoming an astronaut, I initially just set out an hour of time in my calendar each week to do some research on it.

But, given my busy academic schedule and my focus on my other projects, that block of time slowly became meaningless.

That is until I realised that maybe I was approaching it the wrong way. Mental resilience, the ability to force yourself out of your comfort zone, and rewire your brain to surpass all the challenges of being an astronaut - all of these things didn't necessarily come from pre-planned, organised work. Often times, they came from the spontaneous things that were going on my own life.

Things like, reaching out to give a speech at a society event (something I'd never done before, but asked to do for the first time just last week).

Giving a speech at the BAME Engineers Night to Network 2024!

Or, continuing to manage the team of students I lead at Project: Kestrel - working with them to build a fixed wing drone for a competition.

Or, travelling 5 hours solo on an empty train to London and back for a networking event, to meet new people, make connections and learn to optimise my career.

The Motivez Application Season Art of Leverage Event (16th February 2024)

These things have their own benefits too. Just last week when I made the plunge to give a speech at the BAME Engineers Night to Network event, the amount of positive feedback and compliments I received about my speech amazed me. 6 years ago, I was a shadow of my former self - I despised public speaking. But chasing this goal like I am now, made me realise that there was no point waiting anymore - if I wanted to get better, I had to go and do it myself - force myself into that uncomfortable position and understand that I could make it out the other side.

If you're also thinking of chasing the goal of becoming an astronaut - think about the things you do in your own life already. What can you do to make the most of the opportunities you already have? Could you speak at a society of yours? Host an event? Make a video or write about a topic you love?

Do something that pushes you - that gets your brain working on a task you're not normally used to.

The Technical Training

two people scuba diving underwater

The reality of becoming an astronaut involves a lot more hard work in terms of technical expertise than most of us acknowledge. Whether that's extreme environment survival training, underwater training, scuba diving, microgravity experiences, piloting or anything else in the long list - it takes specific effort in a number of areas to get to the point where you can accomplish the tasks that an astronaut is asked to do daily.

To start off, most astronauts have a specialised area of technical research. As a student, it's often difficult and quite early to decide on this field of research that you might want to specialise in - but beginning to think about what aspects interest you, whether that's in astrophysics, astrobiology, engineering or any other related subject, can be a great way to start off.

Likewise, with areas such as scuba diving, flying etc. - specific organisations and schools will help you out in each of those areas to get you where you want to be.

I hope to develop a database of places in the UK and Europe that I can go to for each of these training aspects, but for the time being, here are a few I'm keeping in mind:

Companies to Help with Getting a PPL:

man flying aircraft under cloudy sky
  • Fantasy Wings: a company with a program that will hopefully allow me to receive a fully paid PPL scholarship to complete my flight training after a 10 month programme - https://fantasywings.co.uk/
  • The Honourable Company of Air Pilots: another organisation with an application for a paid PPL that I submitted in January - https://www.airpilots.org/
  • The Air League: yet another UK based organisation, this one focused on specific levels of flight experience for a range of students - https://airleague.co.uk/

Companies to Help Learning How to Scuba Dive:

man in black wet suit diving on water with school of fish

Companies to Help with Skydiving Qualifications:

man in black and white jacket and black pants riding white and black skateboard during daytime

Analog Astronaut Missions:

Österreichische Analog-Astronauten üben für Mars-Mission im Oman ...
  • The Analog Astronaut Conference 2024: https://www.analog-astronaut.com/
  • AstroSchool: an organisation looking to upskill members of their community to develop the skills necessary to become astronauts: https://astroschool.co.uk/
  • Innova Space: https://www.innovaspace.org/ - a European organisation looking at creating a network of professionals with the common theme of research of human presence in Space and other Extreme Environments.
  • UCL's first UK Analogue Space Research Mission:
First of its kind UK Analogue Space Research Mission
The 1st UK analogue space research mission took place from 20th - 23rd May – including analogue astronaut and PhD candidate Malica Schmidt.

The Ultimate Checklist

a notepad with a pen on top of it

I thought I'd round this post off with a full checklist that I've been updating of all the ways I'm looking to train myself to eventually become an astronaut. Here it is!

The ultimate checklist on things I can do as a student to make my way towards becoming an astronaut:

  • Work on getting a Masters Degree in a relevant field (for me, it's an MEng in Aerospace Engineering with Private Pilot Instruction)
  • Try to secure flying scholarships and get a PPL (through Fantasy Wings, the Air League, Honourable Company of Air Pilots or just through my own money)
  • Do some form of social advocacy (for me, that's continuing my social media work on the side to develop my own voice and brand, give back, and build a community alongside me)
  • Secure a role in the space industry to consolidate technical knowledge (for me, that's applying to the ESA's YGT scheme, or applying for jobs in the UK aerospace sector)
  • Apply for analog astronaut missions on Earth (for me, that means reaching out and applying for Asclepios, and other UK based organisations like AstroSchool!)
  • Maintain technical knowledge of piloting and space (I do that through my PPL training, my university course, and reading books/online!)
  • Get a skydiving qualification (saving up for this one after graduation!)
  • Get a scuba diving qualification (saving up for this one after graduation!)
  • Become an aquanaut (which requires spending more than 24 hours underwater - read more here)
  • Learn languages like Arabic, Chinese and Russian (Duolingo got me started, but I'm looking to move to more immersive apps/programs!)
  • Keep physically fit (I've been trying to keep up a regular gym regime)
  • Find a focus for a potential future PhD (for me, I'm aiming to work in the industry for a while and save money while finding a specialisation I really love)

The Call to Action

And finally - if you're like me and also looking to do your utmost to become an astronaut - join my community! I share regular updates on my progress, and we discuss what we can do to continue towards the goal.

Link to the WhatsApp group chat: https://chat.whatsapp.com/DuPy6dIx3Cz0RmE6c20c45

If you've read something on here and loved it, or want to read more, feel free to shoot me a message on my socials:



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