Astronauts are probably the most recognized occupation at NASA. Since the beginning of the space program, they have provided an opportunity for people who wanted to explore the galaxy.
Astronauts are recruited in the GS-0801 job series  and NASA has selected more than 300 astronauts to fly on its increasingly challenging missions to explore space and benefit life on Earth. More will be needed to crew future ISS missions, as well as, the missions beyond low earth orbit.
In this final article in this series, we interviewed Barry E. “Butch” Wilmore, a Navy Captain, who is an aviator and astronaut assigned to the Johnson Space Flight Center, in Houston, TX. The name “Butch” is his Navy Call sign which followed him to NASA.
According to the NASA website, “The term “astronaut” is derived from the Greek words meaning “space sailor,” and refers to all who have been launched as crew members aboard NASA spacecraft bound for orbit and beyond.”
The next class of astronauts may fly on any of four different U.S. spacecraft during their careers: the International Space Station (ISS), two new commercial spacecraft being built by U.S. companies, and NASA’s Orion deep-space exploration vehicle. NASA is in the midst of an unprecedented transition to using commercial spacecraft for its scheduled crew and cargo transport to the ISS. For the last 15 years, humans have been living continuously aboard the orbiting laboratory, expanding scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies. Future crewmembers will continue this work.
Additionally, the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, now in development, will launch astronauts on missions to the proving ground of lunar orbit where NASA will learn to conduct complex operations in a deep space environment before moving on to longer duration missions on the journey to Mars.
Q&A with Barry E. “Butch” Wilmore
Why did you become an astronaut?
I joined the U.S. Navy with a desire to do my part for my Country and eventually attained sufficient qualifications to apply to NASA as a Shuttle Pilot Astronaut. With a desire to continue to serve this great nation while continuing to fly, it was obvious that you can’t fly any higher or faster than a Space Shuttle … so I decided to apply and was eventually selected.
What is the most exciting event as an astronaut?
There can be no one most exciting event as spaceflight is filled with continuous “WOW” moments on almost a daily basis. Just realizing that for a time you’ve left the confines of earth and are no longer a member of that global family is daunting in and of itself. Of course the initial moments of weightlessness following a thrilling Shuttle launch, hand flying the Space Shuttle around the International Space Station (ISS) and spending 25 ½ hours outside the ISS during 4 spacewalks are certainly some of the highlights I’ll always remember.
What is most challenging about being an astronaut?
Balance. As an Astronaut one has so many responsibilities and expectations that maintaining the necessary balance of life is always a challenge. As an Astronaut I somewhat jokingly say that we’re expected to know everything and perform it well. With those expectations we also have greater responsibilities as Husbands, Wives, Fathers and Mother and to our Lord in service within His church. Maintaining that appropriate balance continually on my mind and is continually a challenge.
What was the most dangerous event as an astronaut?
NASA is filled with dedicated, talented and passionate individuals that make spaceflight and everything else we do appear to be routine when it’s actually all but routine. Everything we do from preparations for launch, the launch itself, on orbit operations, and entry and landing are all so very dangerous. What a terrific blessing to work with professionals whose combined efforts make things so dangerous appear to be routine.
Would you recommend this as a good career choice?
If you seek a position where service to your country is at the top of the list and you’re passionate about being a part something great that has been and will continue to be of great benefit to all mankind, then the choice of Astronaut is the position for you.
What else would you like to add about being an astronaut?
The views of earth from space are literally out of this world !!!!!
General Program Requirements
In the article on the recruitment of astronauts  for the Mars program, we discussed qualifications, and education that is required to be an astronaut. Here are some additional requirements to be aware of.
Selected applicants will be designated astronaut candidates and will be assigned to the Astronaut Office at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas. The astronaut candidates will undergo a training and evaluation period lasting approximately 2 years, during which time they will participate in the basic astronaut candidate training program, which is designated to develop the knowledge and skills required for formal mission training upon selection for a flight. Astronaut candidates (with jet piloting backgrounds) will maintain proficiency in NASA aircraft during their candidate period.
As part of the astronaut candidate training program, astronaut candidates are required to complete military water survival before beginning their flying syllabus, and become SCUBA qualified to prepare them for the EVA training. Consequently, all astronaut candidates will be required to pass a swimming test.
Applicants should be aware that selection as an astronaut candidate does not ensure selection as an astronaut. Final selection as an astronaut will depend upon satisfactory completion of the training and evaluation period. Graduation from the astronaut candidate program will require successful completion of the following: International Space Station systems training, Extravehicular Activity skills training, Robotics skills training, Russian language training, and aircraft flight readiness training.
Being an astronaut is one of many great job opportunities, but it is not the only one. Go and explore what NASA has to offer!
- Angela D. Storey, Public Affairs Officer, Marshall Space Flight Center
- Photos provided by NASA
- NASA website: www.nasa.gov 
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