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Sustained human exploration begins with the International Space Station. The station begins a new era of permanent operations in space. NASA's experience during the Shuttle/Mir program provides many answers to the question of sustaining a long-term operation in space.
While the International Space Station will be permanently crewed, the crews will rotate during crew exchange flights. As an incoming crew prepares to replace the outgoing crew there will be a 'handover period'. The current space station crew will communicate by telecon to the crew on Earth any situations not planned for during training, new techniques or any topic necessary for life aboard the space station. Once the new crew arrives onboard the space station the outgoing crew will brief them on safety issues, vehicle changes and payload operations.
Besides being the most advanced laboratory for research and science, the International Space Station will be a launching point to destinations across the solar system. For instance, after sustaining autonomous space operations for 30 days explorers will be able to leave the space station for a journey to the moon and possibly set up a lunar outpost. After autonomous space station operations for 3 years explorers will be able to journey to Mars.
Habitable, pressurized volume on the International Space Station will be 43,000 cubic feet. That is about the volume of three average American houses, each one containing about 2,000 square feet with a 7 foot ceiling for a total of around 14,000 cubic feet. The pressurized volume will be roughly equivalent to the interior of a 747 jumbo jet.
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In the future, the United States with its international partners Japan, Canada, Russia and the European Space Agency, will operate a man-tended space station. From that orbiting depot, humans will continue their journeys to the Moon and Mars. As these plans become reality, the need for qualified space flight professionals will increase.
To respond to these needs, NASA accepts applications for the Astronaut Candidate Program on a continuous basis. Candidates are selected as needed, normally every two years, for pilot and mission specialist categories. Both civilian and military personnel are considered for the program. Civilians may apply at any time. Military personnel must apply through their parent service and be nominated by their service to NASA.
The astronaut candidate selection process was developed to select highly qualified individuals for human space programs. For mission specialists and pilot astronaut candidates, the education and experience requirements are at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics.
For mission specialist applicants, three years of related, progressively responsible professional experience must follow the degree. An advanced degree is desirable and may be substituted for all or part of the experience requirement (i.e., master's degree = 1 year of work experience, doctoral degree = 3 years of experience). Pilot astronaut applicants must also meet the following requirements prior to submitting an application:
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Mission specialists have similar requirements to pilot astronauts, except that the qualifying physical is a NASA Class II space physical, which is similar to a military of civilian Class II flight physical and includes the following specific standards: for vision-distance visual acuity - 20/200 or better uncorrected, correctable to 20/20, each eye. For Blood pressure-Same as for Pilots. Height requirements for mission specialists are between 58.5 and 76 inches.
Applicants who meet the basic qualifications are evaluated by discipline panels. Those selected as finalists are screened during a week-long process of personal interviews, thorough medical evaluations, and orientation. The Astronaut Selection Board's recommendations are based on the applicant's education, training, and experience as well as unique qualifications and skills. Because several hundred applicants fulfill the requirements, the final selection is based largely on personal interviews. Astronauts are expected to be team players and highly skilled generalists with just the right amount of individuality and self-reliance to be effective crew members
Selected applicants are designated astronaut candidates and assigned to the astronaut office at the Johnson Space Center for a 1 to 2 year training and evaluation program. Civilian candidates who successfully complete the training and evaluation and are selected astronauts are expected to remain with NASA for at least 5 years. Successful military candidates are detailed to NASA for a specified tour of duty.
Salaries for civilian astronaut candidates are based on the Federal Government's General Schedule pay scales for grades GS-11 through GS-14, and are set in accordance with each individual's academic achievements and experience.
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