How Much Do Astronauts Get Paid?

How much does NASA pay its astronauts for their experience, training, and the constant risk of death while exploring space — even for commercial ventures like SpaceX? 

The annual salary for a NASA employee is determined by their grade, which ranges from GS-12 to GS-13 on the Federal Government’s General Schedule pay scale. That’s $68,299.00 – $81,216 a year!

Though it may not seem like it, astronauts have the potential to earn a six-figure salary. GS-15 Step 10 is the highest an astronaut can be paid and they make $142,000 annually; this number however varies depending on their role within their astronaut corp as well as how well they perform.

Factors That Determine an Astronaut’s Salary

Just like any other job, an astronaut’s salary is determined by a number of factors.

Academic Achievements

A person’s grade is based on academic achievements and experience. Federal government agencies often utilize grade systems to decide how much to pay white-collar employees. These grades are further divided into steps that range from 1 and go up to 10 depending on the agency.


Some civilians appointed to the astronaut program may start at the GS12 / 13 level, as stated by former astronaut William “Bill” McArthur. For the most part, you need to have three years of professional experience or 1,000 hours of jet aircraft flying under your belt.


The process of being selected is significantly harder than gaining entry into Harvard University; in fact, one could say it’s approximately 74 times more difficult. Usually, the interviewers are astronauts too and they look for people with specific skill sets and ways of thinking.

What Do Astronauts Do?

Even though space travel might seem like a regular occurrence, it’s actually very dangerous. Astronauts are trained to fly and/or live in a spacecraft, work outside of Earth, and do other things related to exploring space for humans. Each time they go into space, there is a chance that something could go wrong and cause their lives to be cut short.

Because of this, the majority of an astronaut’s time is spent training. In the early days, astronauts were largely viewed as observers — someone who would document what they saw happening. It became evident to NASA early on that human involvement would be key to furthering space exploration. As a result, astronauts now play an active role in every space mission.

Final Thoughts

While it’s not the most common profession, being an astronaut is an extremely rewarding experience. Not only do you get to travel to space and explore the universe, but you also get paid quite handsomely for it. It’s important to keep in mind that the amount of money you make as an astronaut will vary depending on your experience, skills, and academic achievements.