NASA’s Hiring: Here Are Some Reasons Why You Should Apply

Twenty years ago this spring — when I was a U.S. Navy test pilot who’d been interviewing with NASA to be an astronaut — I got a call from Dave Leestma, who at that time was NASA’s Head of Flight Crew Operations.

“Mark, you did very well in the interview process,” he told me, “and we hope you’ll want to come down to Houston and work here as an astronaut.”

Struggling to find the words to express my gratitude, I took the job on the spot. After all, it’s not really one of those jobs — one I’d been thinking about since I was a kid growing up in New Jersey — that you can turn down.

Dave and I talked for a few more minutes, and then I had to ask: Would my identical twin brother Scott, who was also a Navy test pilot and had also been interviewing to be an astronaut , also be getting some good news? I knew I normally wouldn’t get anywhere asking about another candidate for the job, but I just couldn’t help myself.

So, I asked Dave: “Will you be calling my brother?”

“Well, I usually wouldn’t say this,” Dave said, “but yes, I need to talk to him as well.”

That’s how I found out my brother and I had been accepted to join Astronaut Group 16, the 1996 NASA astronaut class. It was the start of an incredible journey — for me, one that included the chance to fly to space and back four times, and for Scott, the chance to fly to space and back three times. And in March of last year, Scott launched for his fourth mission — a year-long flight aboard the International Space Station. As I write this, he’s spent 320 straight days serving our country in space — the longest continuous space flight by an American.

Once again, NASA’s hiring: They’re looking for the Americans who will make up their next astronaut class.

These future explorers and public servants will travel to the International Space Station on two new spacecrafts that are being built by companies like Boeing and SpaceX, or on NASA’s Orion deep-space exploration vehicle that will take us to destinations farther out in the solar system, like asteroids, and one day, maybe Mars.

And plus, the job comes with a few perks. Here are some reasons why you should apply to be a NASA astronaut.

1) Location, Location, Location

The International Space Station.

One of the many great things about being an astronaut is the chance to live and work in space. Sure, most astronauts spent most of their time on our planet, training for missions and supporting our colleagues during their missions.

But when you to get the chance “to fly,” as we call it, there is no need to check the weather report before starting your commute to the office. No traffic to contend with. And certainly no line while you grab your morning cup of coffee (even if the coffee is…not exactly Starbucks).

2) An Office With A View

Flying aboard Space Shuttle Discovery (2008).

Let’s face it: every job requires paperwork. Even astronauts do paperwork while they’re orbiting our planet at 17,500 miles per hour. But it’s a lot more enjoyable if you have an office with a view. Seeing this big blue marble floating in the blackness of space gives you a huge appreciation for how incredible our planet is. I’ve been fortunate to travel around the globe to many countries, but nothing compares to the view from the International Space Station.

3) Good Health Care

Undergoing tests in a negative pressure device at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX (2015) as part of NASA’s “Twins Study” of me and my identical twin brother Scott Kelly.

Astronauts are at greater risk for certain occupational-related diseases. For example, because of the heavy exposure to radiation in space, we have a higher risk for cancer. In order to help balance these potential harmful effects to astronauts’ health, NASA has the Lifetime Surveillance of Astronaut Health (LSAH) program, which does health screenings for current and retired astronauts. NASA has been monitoring me since 1996, when we joined NASA. And now, I’m being monitored even more extensively as part of NASA’s “Twins Study” of me and Scott, as they work to better understand the impact of long-duration space flight on humans. That’s important if we are ever going to travel to places like Mars. So for this study, I’m the control subject, and Scott’s the test subject.

4) Really Great Colleagues

My crewmates and I just before the final launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour (2011).

Another great thing about working at NASA is the good people you meet and work with along the way. Each mission takes years to train and prepare for. Your crewmates become your close friends and second family. Don’t believe me? Three of my four groomsmen were astronauts, including my brother Scott.

Whether you work behind the scenes at Mission Control or up on the International Space Station, everyone has answered the same call to learn, discover, and explore. We all have a shared sense of purpose — and that helps make for a great team.

5) Above All: The Chance to Serve Your Country

Being an astronaut is a really difficult and dangerous job. The 15 years I spent at NASA were some of the most challenging years of my life. But there is no greater privilege than the chance to serve your country — and humanity. As an astronaut, you get the chance to serve your country in the name of science, knowledge, and exploration. That’s the best part.

So you think you want to be an astronaut? NASA is accepting applications until Thursday, February 18, 2016. Good luck to all you future NASA astronauts out there.

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