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Astronaut Duties in Space

written by: Rebecca Scudder•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 7/15/2010

Discover what astronauts do in space and learn exactly what responsibilities each rank and title carries. Learn about NASA testing requirements and what experiences and training a applicant must have to be considered for hiring as an astronaut.

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    What Exactly Do The Astronauts Do In Space?

    Ever wonder what astronauts do in space? Well, believe it or not they don't just enjoy the zero gravity by attempting somersaults and headstands. Think of an astronaut as a sailor in space. Just like sailors of the sea, they have duties to perform as well. Pilot astronauts can serve the space shuttle or the space station and include different positions and ranks. A pilot for instance, is in control of operating the shuttle and deploying the use of satellites and unmanned vehicles. A commander is responsible for success of the mission and oversees the crew, vehicle and safety of the flight itself.

    There are also mission specialists who work alongside the commander and pilot. Mission specialists help in coordinating system operations, crew activity planning and usage of consumable resources on board. They are also required to have exhaustive knowledge of shuttle systems and remote equipment operations. Generally, mission specialists are the ones that perform most of the exterior vehicle activities such as repairing and adjusting experimental space systems. Mission specialists are selected from engineers, physicians or scientists who have extensive experience in scientific research. Astronauts who are part of the armed services are paid according to their rank by the federal government, while civilian salaries are paid according to their rank inside the civil system.

    There is a third kind of astronaut called a payload specialist. A payload specialist will carry out experimental tests on payload (cargo) on the spacecraft.

    Surprisingly, NASA did not coin the term "astronaut". The astronaut title actually stems from the 1960's, when the United States Department of Defense gave this term to military and civilian pilots who flew higher than a 50 mile radius in the sky. The word itself comes from roots which can mean space sailor, or star flier.

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    Spacewalk of Exterior Vehicle Activity

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    What NASA Requires of Their Astronauts

    Professional astronauts go through vigorous training and have to handle many physical challenges in order to travel to space and be employed by NASA. Being an astronaut takes intense endurance and stamina.

    NASA is constantly on the lookout for new astronauts and usually selects 15 to 25 applicants every two years. Currently, there is no age limit, but candidates must also pass the NASA space flight examination test.

    All candidates must have a Bachelors of Science from an accredited institution and have at least 1,000 hours of pilot in command time. They must pass a physical exam and have excellent vision. There are different requirements for different positions, but they will require the applicant to be in good to top physical condition, to withstand the stresses of space flight.

    Once selected, applicants undergo training for an entire year at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Johnson Space Center is where astronauts are schooled in flight training, survival training and basic mission testing.

    What astronauts do in space is actually risking their lives to further give us a greater knowledge and awareness of space. Exploration and research of space would not be possible without the courage and efforts of the men and women who take up this monumental task.