update: how do I tell references I’m applying to be an astronaut?

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer wondering how to tell references she was applying to be an astronaut? (#4 at the link) Here’s the update.

A few months ago, I wrote in about feeling awkward when asking people to serve as references for my astronaut application. I greatly appreciate Alison’s advice as well as the input from readers, both turned out to be insightful and spot on!

Some commenters noted that it was odd for NASA to ask for references upfront, and also that it was unlikely for NASA to contact the references of all 12,000+ applicants. I’d honestly not considered those points and they prompted me to do some more research before reaching out to my references. Turns out only the references of highly qualified applicants (a tiny percentage of total applicants) are contacted, usually before applicants even know they’re in that pool (hence asking for contact info upfront). This timeline is publicly available but wasn’t communicated explicitly. It gave me a timeframe for talking to my references so I’m glad I sought it out.

At that point, I had achieved a major professional accomplishment worth sharing with my network, so I used that announcement as a lead-in to share my space aspirations with references. Alison’s advice on tone was perfect and it was really much simpler than I anticipated. As Alison and many readers assured me, they were nothing but pleased and even honored and giddy at the thought of being a reference for an astronaut candidate. The one reference whose reaction I was most unsure about told me he’d wanted to be an astronaut as a kid so he was totally on board.

Alas, the window has now closed and NASA never contacted my references, so it appears I was not in the highly qualified pool. However, the exercise brought me closer to my mentors and I’m glad I shared this dream goal with them. I am also starting a new job soon that I am very excited about (and used LOTS of advice from this blog to navigate/negotiate)! There’s no one path to becoming an astronaut and it’s recommended that hopefuls keep doing work they’re passionate about. So I’m on a good path both for me now and for this stretch goal, which is the best scenario I could ask for.

Finally, I want to express how positively the comments impacted me. When I wrote in, I was in a very solitary, stressed place with work and impostor syndrome was running high. The sheer joy and excitement expressed by commenters reminded me of why I am drawn to the space program in the first place: it is universally exciting and brings many people together in a positive way. Folks celebrated my simply being qualified to apply! I go back and read those comments from time to time. I’m grateful to this community and sincerely thank Alison and everyone who contributed advice.

{ 9 comments… read them below }

  1. Madame X*

    I missed this letter the first when it was initially published, but glad to hear that Alison’s advice was useful to the LW even if they did not end up being selected as an astronaut. I hope the new position the LW is in now works out well for them!

  2. Bookworm*

    Although I’m sorry you were not selected to advance, I’m glad you got something good out of it. Thanks for sharing the update!!!

  3. CatCat*

    I think it’s awesome that you put yourself in the running even though it was a long shot. Sounds like things are going great and I’m so glad! :-)

  4. Properlike*

    This is wonderful! I hope you find a different way to be an astronaut, or to contribute to space science in a significant way if you can’t ultimately go to space yourself. Who wouldn’t want to write a reference for an astronaut candidate?!

  5. Almost Academic*

    Are you me? Seriously OP, thanks for writing in because I had the exact same question (I think it was posted a few days after I finally worked up the courage to ask my refs)! Didn’t make it into the highly qualified pool either but glad I applied. Here’s to both of us re-applying again in the future :-)

  6. New Jack Karyn*

    This is really heart-warming to hear! Thank you for writing in, and I’m glad the whole thing was a good experience for you.

  7. Mia*

    Way to go OP! And keep applying to NASA! Mike Massimino was rejected three times before finally being accepted.

  8. Half April Ludgate, Half Leslie Knope*

    As someone who’s also passionate about the space program, but who would never qualify to be an astronaut (I would rather just work for NASA – dream job!) – keep going, OP! I can’t wait for the day when you announce you’ve made it and we can all cheer and watch you lift off!

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