Everyone wants to be an astronaut but few actually apply. The basic requirements for a mission specialist or flight engineer are simple:
1. American citizenship.
2. Bachelor's degree in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics.
3. Vision of 20/100 or better correctable to 20/20.
4. Blood pressure of 140/90 or better, sitting.
5. Height between 62" and 75".
While there's no age limit, I would have been one of the oldest astronaut candidates selected – a daunting statistic considering only Russia and China currently have the ability to put people into orbit. Obviously, beyond these basic requirements, it gets highly competitive. Astronauts have resumes and experiences that are humbling.
Once an astronaut class is selected, the astronaut candidates (affectionately referred to as ASCANS) begin two years of basic astronaut training which includes learning Russian. After that, they're officially called astronauts and they're assigned to a mission, usually a few years in the future, which begins with more, specific, training.
As glamorous as this job sounds, it involves very little time in space with a lot of time, training, and travel away from home and family.
I applied to be an astronaut in January of last year. I was contacted by NASA a couple times to provide some additional information. After reviewing the basics, NASA selected, from over 6,000 applicants, a group of one or two hundred highly qualified (HQ) candidates to visit Johnson Space Center. That group was whittled down to several dozen for another week of interviews and medial exams until NASA officially announced their eight ASCANS for the NASA class of 2013.
NASA doesn't disclose specifics figures at each step, but I realized when a college buddy, Karl, got the call, last fall, to visit NASA several months ago that I hadn't made the HQ cut. After Karl didn't receive a call back, he too realized that he hadn't been selected. But it's not set in stone until a new NASA class of ASCANS is officially announced.
Despite my disappointment – tempered with the realization that it was a long shot – I do get a huge source of pride in the fact that another college buddy, Chris, is currently orbiting aboard the ISS. I was very fortunate to watch Chris launch into space on his first mission, aboard the space shuttle Endeavour, in 2009 accompanied by a college ball cap that I presented to him the previous year.