I was eight years old when John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. Glued to the television set, my mind was made up. I was going to be an astronaut. Of course my parents thought it was very amusing, and didn’t take me very seriously. I was a science fiction nut, and I would read any story about space that I could get my hands on, and I would watch any space related movie. I became involved with model rocketry, and was the first kid in my town to launch a rocket.
As I entered high school, both my parents and guidance counselor began questioning me about my college plans. You can imagine the look on their faces when I said I wanted to be an astronaut. I of course was dead serious, and I knew more about the space program than almost anyone. I began giving lectures to local groups about spaceflight and I caught the attention of the head of the Grumman Aerospace Corporation, was which was building the lunar lander. He offered to give me a personal behind the scenes tour where I met astronauts, watch the lunar lander being built, and even got to fly the lunar lander simulator.
I went to college and majored in geology. To be a shuttle astronaut, there are two paths that you can take. To be a shuttle pilot, you need to be a pilot with many hours of flight time in high performance aircraft. This path typically requires a military background. To be a mission specialist, which was the path I was taking, you need an advanced degree in science or engineering.
I applied three times to NASA for a mission specialist position. The third time I came close, but was not selected. I realized my dream would not happen, but I wasn’t sad. The journey I took to become an astronaut shaped the person I am today and the career I eventually followed. I was invited by NASA to witness the launch of Apollo 17 and the ninth space shuttle mission. I toured NASA facilities, met astronauts, and got to share my enthusiasm with thousands of eager people to came to hear my lectures.
So my advice to anyone who wants to be an astronaut is simple. Study hard and become the best you can be. The completion for astronaut positions is fierce, and even if you don’t win the prize, you will realize that the journey itself is worth it.