The process of becoming an astronaut through governmental organisations like ESA or JAXA is a tedious and selective process with multiple requirements, and it’s not for everyone. However, as the space sector makes technological advances we find more opportunities to visit space, some of which are far more laid back than you’d think!
So How do We Define an Astronaut?
An astronaut is someone who has travelled above a certain altitude set differently by each country. Most European countries recognise the von Kármán Line (100km) as the point at which you become an astronaut, although the US considers 80km enough. Ironically, NASA’s 80km mark agrees more with the findings of von Kármán, the engineer who calculated roughly where outer space could start (83.6km), than the von Kármán Line itself.
The title of astronauts is given to many people who have travelled to space, even those who don’t pilot the spacecraft. You could be a tourist or a mission commander, yet all that matters is if you travel high enough, essentially.
There isn’t really a specific name for astronauts who work with government funded military or civilian space agencies like NASA, they’re simply called astronauts or cosmonauts. Astronauts who are associated with a private space agency such as SpaceX or Virgin Galactic are able to be called commercial astronauts. Mike Melvill was the first commercial astronaut, who flew SpaceShipOne in 2004 and reached 100km in altitude!
What Does it Take to Become A Commercial Astronaut?
This will largely depend on which company and role you’re after. Take a look at this Q&A by Beth Moses, who started off as a NASA hardware tester, and progressed to training astronauts to do the same at Virgin Galactic. Moses then was able to become a pilot at VG and chief astronaut instructor.
Her job requires a lot but Virgin Galactic also provide the option for you to bypass all the work and training; you can purchase a ticket and take a backseat in their spacecraft instead. Now isn’t that awesome!?
These commercial astronauts simply purchase a ticket in full, or have the option to pay just before spaceflight. A few days before they go up into space, they will head over to VG’s spaceport and undergo a bit of training in order to be more prepared.
I actually talked with a future astronaut, Ron Rosano, who purchased a seat and is expecting to go up into space soon. He’s already undergone some parts of the training process such as being in a centrifuge and reduced-gravity aircraft, and he’s really glad to have already done some training as he knows what to expect. It’s a bit better when you already know how you’re going to feel up in space!
Ron is really invested in space, and even is a NASA space ambassador for all you US folks out there! I highly recommend you check him out online!