Pilot astronauts serve as both Space Shuttle commanders and pilots. During flight, the commander has onboard responsibility for the vehicle, crew, mission success, and safety of flight. The pilot assists the commander in controlling and operating the vehicle and may assist in the deployment and retrieval of satellites using the remote manipulator system (RMS), referred to as the robot arm or mechanical arm.
Mission Specialist Astronauts
Mission specialist astronauts work with the commander and the pilot and have overall responsibility for coordinating Shuttle operations in the following areas: Shuttle systems, crew activity planning, consumables usage, and experimen/payload operations. Mission specialists are trained in the details of the Orbiter onboard systems, as well as the operational characteristics, mission requirements/objectives, and supporting equipment/systems for each of the experiments conducted on their assigned missions. Mission specialists perform extravehicular activities (EVAs), or spacewalks, operate the remote manipulator system, and are responsible for payloads and specific experiment operations.
Payload specialists are persons other than NASA astronauts (including foreign nationals) who have specialized onboard duties; they may be added to Shuttle crews if activities that have unique requirements are involved and more than the minimum crew size of five is needed.
First consideration for additional crew members is given to qualified NASA mission specialists. When payload specialists are required they are nominated by NASA, the foreign sponsor, or the designated payload sponsor. In the case of NASA or NASA-related payloads, the nominations are based on the recommendations of the appropriate Investigator Working Group (IWG). Although payload specialists are not part of the Astronaut Candidate Program, they must have the appropriate education and training related to the payload. All applicants must meet certain physical requirements and must pass NASA space physical examinations with varying standards depending on classification.
For information about opportunities in this field, write to NASA Headquarters, Attn: Code OST-5, Washington, DC 20546. If you are not a citizen of the United States, you may wish to contact the appropriate government agency within your own country.