What is the Best College to Attend if You Want to Be an Astronaut?

Which is the best university to attend if one is interested in becoming an astronaut? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Robert Frost, Instructor and Flight Controller at NASA, on Quora:

There is no "best university" to attend if one is interested in becoming an astronaut. Just looking at the current corps of astronauts, we can see that ninety-six different universities/colleges/institutions of learning are represented.

Being an astronaut is a second career. So, if you're trying to determine what university to attend, you should attend one that will set you up well for your first career, whatever that might be.

The two schools most represented in the current astronaut corps are the U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Both institutions are represented by eight degrees in the current astronaut corps. Those two institutions are well represented because about half of NASA's astronauts come from the military services. But, and this is a big and important but, most of the current NASA astronauts that have come from the military services did not attend either of those two institutions.

The quality of education doesn't vary that much among accredited universities. Send three identical engineering majors to M.I.T., Stanford, and Texas A&M, and they will come out the other end in four or five years with just about the same level of engineering skills.

Where school choice makes a difference is networking and perceptions.

If you want to get into a particular law firm, going to the same university as the partners of that firm creates a networking connection and can increase your chances. I have never observed such networking playing a significant role in hiring at NASA. Where that networking can make a difference at NASA is that having contacts at an organization can give one an advantage in knowing about open positions. In that case, if you wanted to have that connection to the Johnson Space Center, you would select either Texas A&M or the University of Texas. Those two schools are very well represented at JSC.

Looking through the list of represented schools [1], we should not mistake correlation for causation. We see that M.I.T. and Stanford are well represented by the astronaut corps at seven each. But we shouldn't make the assumption that means that going to those two schools increases your chances. Other considerations contribute to that number. Those schools may appeal to people that want to be astronauts. If those who wish to be astronauts think that going to M.I.T. might help them, then they will be more likely to attend M.I.T., and thus the number of astronaut candidate applications from M.I.T. will be inflated.

There isn't a smarter astronaut than Story Musgrave. He isn't included in the counts for the current astronaut corps because he is retired, but he has degrees from Syracuse University, the University of California at Los Angeles, Marietta College, Columbia University, the University of Kentucky, and the University of Houston. He didn't need any particular school to fly on the Space Shuttle six times.

Footnotes

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