- Salary: $65,140 to $100,701
Going on a field trip to the planetarium and looking through a telescope at the moon prompted many a child to dream of becoming an astronaut. And yes, getting to the moon is as hard as it looks.
A bachelor's in engineering, science or math is the minimum requirement for mission specialists and pilot astronauts, followed by three or more years of related experience or pilot experience, says NASA.
But beating the 4,000 applicants that compete for 20 positions every two years requires more, says Don Thomas, director of Towson University's Willard Hackerman Academy of Mathematics and Science and a former astronaut who completed four space flights between 1994 and 1997.
"For every 20 civilians that they select, I would guess something like 15 (or) 16 of them are going to have their Ph.D. even though it's not required," he says.
Flying experience also helps, says Thomas, as does a willingness to keep applying. Thomas was rejected three times before getting in on his fourth attempt.
Make it past the first cut and you'll report to Houston for medical and psychological testing. Get accepted and you'll spend about a year training. The work is worth it even if the salary is comparable to what you'd earn outside of NASA as an engineer or scientist, Thomas adds.
"You get a good salary, but you're not making the big bucks like a football player or baseball player or the Kardashian sisters," he says. "You do it more for the experience than for the money."