Astronauts are paid on a federal or military grade, depending on their status.
Along with wanting to be a fireman, policeman or doctor, many kids dream of becoming an astronaut. But it’s not an easy road. You must first qualify to become an astronaut candidate. After being selected, you must complete a two-year training and evaluation period to be eligible, and even then you might not ever take flight. This doesn’t mean it’s not possible, and the earnings often reflect the patience and commitment it takes to see it through.
According to NASA, civilian astronauts are awarded a pay grade of anywhere from GS-11 to GS-14, so the income range is relatively wide. Starting salaries begin at almost $65, 000 a year. Seasoned astronauts, on the other hand, can earn upward of $141, 715 a year.
Many astronauts, however, come from the military, and like anyone in the armed forces, they’re awarded a pay grade based on active duty status. A colonel or captain, for example, is commissioned at an O-6 pay grade. After eight years of service, they would earn $7, 193 a month, or $86, 316 a year, as of 2011. Ten years of service brings a pay of $7, 232 a month, or $86, 784 a year, while 20 years increases pay to $9, 223 a month, or $110, 676 a year. With the rank of brigadier general, astronauts are commissioned at an O-7 pay grade. After eight years of service, they would earn $9, 080 a month, or $108, 960 a year. At 10 years of active duty, pay increases to $9, 360 a month, or $112, 320 a year. With 20 years of service, military pay is $11, 541 a month, or $138, 492 a year.
Military astronauts have the added bonus of housing allowances, as do other military personnel. In addition to base pay, colonels and captains are given over $1, 300 a month for housing without any dependents, and almost $1, 600 a month with dependents. Brigadier generals - and any other rank above this - are given $1, 428 a month without dependents and $1, 756 with dependents. They may also be eligible for special incentives, such as aviation career incentive pay, which could bring an additional $125 to $840 a month more to base salaries. Civilian astronauts wouldn’t be eligible for any of these benefits.
While NASA is always looking for astronauts, the chance of being selected for the program is about 0.7 percent, according to Col. Tim Creamer, a retired NASA astronaut. NASA doesn’t recommend one degree over another to improve your chances, but the basic requirements are often engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics. Entrance to the program also “requires either 3 years of professional related experience, or 1, 000 hours of pilot-in-command time in [a] jet aircraft.” However, most candidates get jet aircraft experience in the military.