Who Becomes an Astronaut? (NASA Data Project)

Data is Beautiful is a Reddit community where users can share data visualizations of their own making and from elsewhere on the internet. Each month, the community holds a data visualization contest in which all participants are asked to work with a particular dataset.

This month’s dataset was a fun one– records on American astronauts, including which missions they’ve flown, their job titles, the years in which they were selected for the space program, and (in some cases) their military experience.

This post should be considered my submission.


First, I wanted to get a sense of ages at which people become astronauts. Luckily, the dataset included each astronaut’s selection year and birth date. The visualization below shows the age-range of astronauts selected each year.



62% of the astronauts are recorded as having served in the military, so I wanted to see what sort of military backgrounds were common among astronauts.


For the purposes of this visualization, I lumped retirees and reservists in with their active-duty counterparts, and only included astronauts for whom I could find a rank and a branch

Initially, I was unsure of how I would quantify ranks. An even trickier problem was that the names of ranks vary from branch to branch. Then it occurred to me that the DoD Pay Grade system already serves as a framework for comparing the seniority of officers across different branches of the military.

Under the DoD system, a major in the Army is an O-4, and so is a lieutenant commander in the Navy, so I used these pay grades as a proxy for rank.

There’s probably a lot more I could do with this data. Are there any questions you would like me to answer in a future post? Does anything here make you feel curious? You can let me know by commenting below or emailing me at michaelfosterprojects@gmail.com

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