Major Tim Peake - Becoming an Astronaut

To become an astronaut – You don’t have to be in the military, but it helps. British astronaut Tim Peak has inspired a generation to dream of travelling through space. Discover the journey leading up to Tim Peake's space mission and how military life could help increase your chances of becoming an astronaut too.

Astronaut Banner

On the 15 December 2015 Tim Peake launched successfully at 11:03 GMT from Baikonur Cosmodrome on board Soyuz TMA-19M. Now aboard the International Space Station (ISS) we thought we’d take a look at the journey that got him there. 

Astronaut Time Line

What sort of skills do you need to become an astronaut?

There is no straightforward path to become an astronaut. There are no schools or university courses for it. What makes astronauts special is the ability to apply their knowledge and skills to specific tasks, to be ready to deal with failures, to react quickly and efficiently, and to be determined to succeed. Candidates for ESA astronaut positions must have a complete package of qualifications and qualities. Further training will get them ready for their trips to space.


High level of education in scientific or technical disciplines, coupled with an outstanding professional background. Operational skills, such as previous flying experience as a pilot, are a bonus.

Physical condition

Good health and physical endurance are essential. Candidates are preferably aged between 27 to 37 years old by the time they apply for an astronaut position. They are mentally and physically healthy individuals, able to cope with physiological stress in a harsh and challenging environment.

Key skills

Good reasoning capability, the ability to work under stress, memory and concentration skills, aptitude for spatial orientation, psychomotor coordination and manual dexterity.


ESA’s astronauts are ambassadors for the promotion of the benefits of spaceflight. Candidates should be good communicators, willing to share their experience with people on Earth, be active on social media, and take part in public relations activities, conferences and scientific lectures.


High motivation, flexibility, gregariousness, low level of aggression, and emotional stability.


It is a challenge to live and work in a confined space with other people for long periods. Astronauts-to-be must have the ability to adapt in stressful situations, work with cultural differences and maintain high working standards.

Astronaut Selection

Other military officers who've made it into space

But Major Peake isn’t the first astronaut to have previously been in the military in fact the majority of astronauts come from the military. As of 2009 61% of the astronauts selected at NASA also served in the armed forces. When it comes to shuttle pilots the percentage is much higher, 93% of NASA shuttle pilots have come from the military.

These figures include some big names too, Neil Armstrong was a Naval Pilot and Buzz Aldrin was a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force before going on to visit the moon!

Initially space agencies looked to the military for their experience and willingness to face dangerous situations. Although more than 50 years has passed since Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space and space agencies are now looking to civilians they cannot deny the high competence and skill that comes with military personnel. 

Tim Peake agrees that his army training, experience as a test pilot and skills developed whilst being in the military have all contributed to help him become the first professional British astronaut. 

Some words from Tim Peake himself

“I think my Army training has helped enormously in preparing me for being an astronaut. The Army provides an opportunity to develop personal skills that are extremely useful in many walks of life. Some of the skills that you learn along the way as a test pilot or pilot in general are fundamental to the astronaut role. Not just in terms of getting on as a crew, but also in terms of accurate and timely analysis of problems and stability in emergency situations. In addition to these characteristics, astronauts must have good interpersonal and communication skills in order to operate effectively in a multi-cultural environment.” Tim Peake 


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