And, remember, you will not be coming back. If it does not work out for you: tough. Fundamentally, Mars One plans to send fit, healthy, excited Earthlings to another planet. Where they will die.
Qualifications: Fit, telegenic, not too fussed about the Earth
3. Mars and back
If you would rather go to Mars and return to Earth in one piece, then Dennis Tito may have the answer. The space tourist and entrepreneur has founded the Inspiration Mars Foundation to send astronauts on a round trip to the red planet. Unfortunately, you will not get to land but instead pass within 160km (100 miles) of Mars before heading back to Earth. The 18 month mission is due for launch in 2018, although Tito has yet to secure funding to make it a reality.
So who can apply? The foundation has suggested that a middle-aged, married couple would be ideal for the trip. A quick look at the small print, suggests they also need to be American. If you are the sort of person who can imagine spending 18 months cooped up in a small room with your partner, drinking your recycled urine while your home world recedes into the far distance, then you are a better person than me.
Qualifications: An extremely strong marriage and/or prenup
4. Buy a trip to the Moon
Do you find the idea of sub-orbital tourist flights too tame? Are you uninspired by Mars? Do you have a spare $1.4 billion? Then you can contract the Golden Spike Company to put together a lunar landing mission for you. Named after the ceremonial spike that joined the transcontinental railroad across America, Golden Spike claims to have the expertise to fly expeditions to the Moon, opening up “an enduring link to the final frontier”.
You do not necessarily have to be a billionaire to apply. In theory, the offer is open to corporations or even countries. Political leaders could use it to distract people from their economic mismanagement. Maybe you could get together a group of friends to raise the cash to take the next giant leap for mankind?
Like many of these proposals, Golden Spike is made up of serious people but has yet to have anyone come forward with the cash. And, as we have reported in this column before, the technical obstacles to return to the Moon are formidable. As with many of the other astronaut options here, it is only theoretical.
Qualifications: Money. Lots and lots of money.
5. Sign up with a space agency
You know when job adverts say “we are seeking an outstanding individual”? The people that recruit astronauts really mean that. If you are – or aspire to be – a genuinely exceptional person with good heath and relevant skills, then look out for your local space agency’s next recruitment campaign and you might be in with a chance.
To quote from the European Space Agency’s astronaut recruitment website: “Space agencies are looking for the best people possible.”
I have been lucky enough to meet and interview a lot of real astronauts – from Moon walkers to the latest trainees. They may not always have been the most likeable individuals but, without exception, they have been deeply impressive people.
Most of the Apollo astronauts and early Russian cosmonauts were military or test pilots, their flying skills already honed to near-perfection. Even today, the selection process tends to favour pilots. Other professions with a good chance of making the running include engineers and scientists. The second man on the Moon, Buzz Aldrin, for instance, was both a pilot and held a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Space Agencies seek out a combination of professional skills, fitness and personalities suited to spending time in stressful, cramped conditions. To apply, you also have to live in a country that supports a human space programme. If you are a citizen, for example, of the US, Russia, China, Europe, Japan or Canada, then you are in with a chance.
Qualifications: You have the right stuff
So, unfortunately, it seems that unless you have plenty of spare cash or you are one of the “best people”, becoming an astronaut remains extremely difficult. Sure, there are more options now than 50 years ago, but it is likely to remain an elite profession for many decades to come.
I hate to break it to potential astronauts, but the vast majority of you may have to lower your career expectations.