All active astronauts are employed by NASA, although some payload specialists may also be employed elsewhere, such as at a university or private company. All are NASA-trained and paid. Within the NASA program, astronauts may be classified as civil service employees or military personnel, depending on their background. Astronauts who gain astronaut status through their military branch remain members of that military branch and maintain their rank. Astronauts who go to college and test into the program are civil service employees.
Inactive or retired astronauts may find employment opportunities outside NASA. Jobs might include teaching at a university, conducting research for other government agencies or private companies, working with manufacturers to develop space equipment, and educating the public on the space program.
You can begin laying the groundwork toward making your astronaut application stand out from others when you are in college. Those who have been successful in becoming astronauts have distinguished themselves from the hundreds of other applicants by gaining practical experience. Internships and work/study positions in your chosen area of interest are a good way to gain vital experience. Your college career services office can help direct you to such opportunities. Working on campus as a teacher assistant or research assistant in a lab is another good way to make yourself more marketable later on.
Once other qualifications are met, civilian candidates apply through USAJOBS (https://www.usajobs.gov), the employment site of the Office of Personnel Management. Applicants are reviewed at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where all astronauts train. The applicants are ranked according to height considerations, experience, and expertise. Active duty military submit applications to their respective military branch and USAJOBS. Entrance into the profession is competitive. A small percentage of candidates are asked to come to the Johnson Space Center for a week of interviews and medical examinations and orientation. From there, the Astronaut Selection Office interviews applicants and assigns them a rating. Those ratings are passed on to a NASA administrator, who makes the final decision.
Advancement is not a formal procedure. Astronauts who are members of the military generally rise in rank when they become astronauts and as they gain experience. Those employed by the civil service may rise from the GS-11 to GS-14 rating. Those who gain experience as astronauts will likely work into positions of management as they retire from actual flight status. Some astronauts may direct future space programs or head space laboratories or factories. Some astronauts return to military service and may continue to rise in rank. As recognized public figures, astronauts can enter elected office and enjoy government and public speaking careers. Others can find employment in the private aeronautical industry.
Visit the NASA Web site (https://www.nasa.gov/astronauts) for detailed information on current physical and educational requirements for astronauts and the next application date for aspiring astronauts.
Apply for astronaut positions at https://www.usajobs.gov.
Conduct information interviews with astronauts and ask them for advice on preparing for and entering the field.