How Much Do Astronauts Make?

How Much Do Astronauts Make?

How Much Do Astronauts Make
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Many children across the world dream of becoming astronauts but very few grow up to become one. In fact, only about 500 of the 7 billion people on Earth have the privilege of calling themselves astronauts. Those applying for the few available positions must be highly qualified and should be in peak physical condition.

Getting selected for the program is only the first step on a long journey. Aspirants must complete a two-year period of training and evaluation to become eligible for space-flight. Even after that, the opportunities to travel to and work in space are extremely rare.

An astronaut’s salary is reflective of the patience and commitment required to secure his/her position. Read on to learn more about the salary of astronauts and what it takes to become one.

How Much Do Astronauts Get Paid?

NASA is a governmental institution, and civilian astronauts are classified as civil servants. Their annual salary is based on the General Schedule Pay Scale employed by the United States Federal Government. However, many astronauts come from a military background, and their pay grade is contingent upon their active duty status. The actual numbers for both categories are outlined below.

NOTE: It should be noted that the salary packages change every year.


Upon his/her selection for the program, a civilian astronaut is typically assigned the grade of GS-12 or GS-13. This puts an astronaut’s minimum starting salary at just over $66,000 per year (as of 2020). These GS-12 astronauts can start earning a little over $86,000, after performing with excellence for several years.

On the other hand, a GS-13 astronaut (more qualified) would start at nearly $80,000 annually. He/she is expected to see an increment of $20,000 over a similar timeframe by demonstrating similar performance.

It’s important to realize that astronauts are NOT locked into the GS-12 and GS-13 grades. Instead, they can advance to the top tier (GS-15 Step 10) by showing prominent progress during their careers. In that case, they can earn a salary of about $142,000.

Military Personnel

According to a NASA press release (in 2017), nearly 58% of all astronauts had military backgrounds. Normally, military candidates are commissioned officers with at least 5 years of active duty service.

Captain and colonels, being commissioned at an O-6 pay grade, would earn a little under $96,500 (annually) after 8 years of service. They could expect a pay increase of about $500 after serving for another 2 years. Likewise, a further 10 years of service should see them earning $123,540 per year.

Brigadier generals are commissioned at an O-7 pay grade and would earn just under $120,000 (annually) after 8 years of service. They can expect an increase of about $2500 in the coming two years. Roughly, another $27,500 will be added to their salary after working for another 10 years.

What Does It Take To Become An Astronaut?

NASA is always looking for new astronauts, but getting selected is no mean feat. Only 12 out of 18,300 applicants were selected in 2017. On average, the chance of being selected is about 0.08%. This makes the selection process about 74 times tougher than that of Harvard University.

The basic requirements include being a U.S. citizen and holding an accredited bachelor’s degree in mathematics, biological or physical science, or engineering. Additionally, the applicant must have 3 years of professional-related experience. Alternatively, he/she should have 1000 hours of flight time as the pilot-in-command of a jet aircraft. Candidates have often acquired the latter as servicemen in the military.

The applicants must also be able to clear NASA’s physical test and demonstrate specialized skills. The ways of thinking are also screened in the typically astronaut-conducted interview process.

What Skills Do Astronauts Need?

What Skills Do Astronauts Need?

Astronauts need a variety of skills and attributes to attain success. For instance, their physical stamina must be top-notch. They need to be SCUBA-qualified and should be able to swim a certain distance without stopping. In addition to that, they should be capable of treading in water while bedecked in full flight gear. Similarly, their bodies must be capable of withstanding a range of atmospheric pressures and the effects of zero-g training.

Furthermore, they must have the mental fortitude required to spend long periods away from their homes and families. This is because they can be required to spend months living in close quarters with practical strangers. Astronauts should also be able to cope with fear and isolation.

The level of intelligence required by an astronaut is much more than what’s required to attain academic qualifications. For example, astronauts should be creative enough to handle unexpected and complex problems. They must be able to think critically and evaluate the situation thoroughly to ensure excellence. Likewise, self-discipline is necessary for astronauts because they work alone (most of the time).

Astronauts’ jobs may require them to move quickly from task to task. Therefore, they must be adaptable and should adjust well when new standards and procedures are instituted. Similarly, this attribute allows them to work smoothly with professionals from different cultures and backgrounds.

SpaceX Salary

SpaceX Salary

The private space company of Elon Musk successfully shuttled Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS, in May 2020. This made SpaceX the first private company to send people to space. It was also the first instance when NASA employed a commercially-developed spacecraft for such purposes. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is also the first American space capsule to complete a manned mission since 2011.

The astronauts on board are not SpaceX employees and are working for NASA (since 2000). Hurley was a veteran of two spaceflights, having been the pilot for STS-127 and STS-135. On the other hand, Behnken had already made two trips to the International Space Station. Although the salaries and net worth of these astronauts are not public, there are some amazing speculations about these numbers.

In 2019, it was claimed that the net worth of both these astronauts is in the range of $1-5 million. Reportedly, Hurley’s employment as an astronaut at NASA is his only source of income, which exceeds $100,000 annually. Having two decades of experience and now 3 in-space missions to his name, Behnken may be expected to enjoy a similar pay grade.

Highest-Paid Astronaut

Highest-Paid Astronaut

The highest-paid astronauts are currently (presumably those with GS-15 Step 10 salaries) earning over $142,000 annually. However, they can be outstripped by military astronauts of a high enough rank. The exact identity of the highest-paid astronaut is NOT in the public domain.

Historically, the highest-paid astronaut may well have been the first man to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong. The amounts he was earning in the 60s were far more than what the highest-paid astronauts receive today.

In 1966, the Gemini 8 mission saw Neil Armstrong become the first United States civilian to enter space. All mission objectives were not met, but Armstrong was awarded NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal. It was accompanied by a pay increase that took the astronaut’s salary to $21,653. This made him the highest-paid astronaut at the time, earning $173,946 in today’s money. At the time of the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, Armstrong was paid $27,401, which translates to $194,330.


The salary of an astronaut does complete justice to the efforts that are put into the selection process. The intensive process involves strict scrutiny of the physical, intellectual, and psychological capabilities of the applicants. This is one of the primary reasons why a population of 7 billion people has only 500 astronauts.

The selection of an individual is just the beginning as you have to go through a 2-year training. During this period, the candidate is continuously evaluated to see whether he/she is fit for space-flight or not. The utmost determination and temperament needed for this job mean that you can make up to $142,000 per year.

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