For anyone interested in ditching their desk job for an office in the cosmos, former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has some insider advice: be special.

Speaking to CTV News Channel from his Sarnia, Ont. home on Saturday, the retired International Space Station commander outlined what Canada’s Space Agency is looking for in its next two astronauts.

He said “the ability to learn complicated things” is important, as is being in tip-top physical shape. But there’s a third essential quality that Hadfield says is “difficult to define.”

“It really comes down to what sort of person you are,” he said. “Who would you want to spend six months with in a tiny little spaceship, or on the surface of the moon with? What type of person? What sort of skills – not just math and science and engineering and (being) physically fit – but what sort of other nuances would you want?”

The application deadline for the once-in-a-lifetime job closes Monday at midnight Pacific Time, and the Canadian Space Agency said it has already been flooded with thousands of applications.

According to the unique job listing, the two successful applicants will help support current projects and undergo rigorous training for future space missions. The astronauts will mainly work out of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, but will regularly return to Canada for various responsibilities.

As for physical qualifications, applicants must have:

  • a height between between 149.5 cm and 190.5 cm (or between 4-foot-11 and 6-foot-3);
  • a weight between 110 to 209 pounds; and
  • 20/20 vision (those who’ve undergone eye correction surgery are eligible, but the CSA warns against getting the procedure solely for the application).
  • a bachelor's degree in engineering or science (physics, chemistry, biology, geology, etc.), or a doctorate in medicine or dentistry

How Hadfield got in

Hadfield was a test pilot with several degrees under his belt when he applied to be one of Canada’s next astronauts, and he recalled the experience as “very nerve-wracking.”

“It was probably the most unsettled six months of my life waiting for that next phone call or to hear if I was going to make it to the next level. Pursuing something that is fantastic but also extremely improbable, it’s a very difficult chase – but one where the prize is magnificently worth it.”

The list of applicants will be whittled down through several rounds based on qualifications. The real challenge, Hadfield says, begins when the Space Agency confirms its top two choices.

“Well, it’s crazy,” he said. “You have come over sort of a hilltop in life … that you never actually let yourself believe would happen. So it’s surreal, but also, it’s a little bit daunting.”

The two successful applicants go from being fairly accomplished in their fields to being small fish among an elite team of space experts – or, as Hadfield puts it, “baby astronauts.”

“It’s both thrilling (and) very, very humbling,” he said.

Hadfield said it takes “the better part of a year” before applicants know whether they’re in the running for the job.

Hansen: ‘It can take a long time’ before lift-off

Canada’s next two astronauts won’t be headed straight to outer space. In fact, many wait years before they ever reach lift-off.

“It can take a long time, I’ve already been training seven years,” Canadian astronaut Lt.-Col. Jeremy Hansen told CTV News Channel on Sunday.

“We have to wait for our opportunities.”

That in mind, recent technological advancements have brought new hope for more space travel. Hansen points to the SpaceX rockets, which have successfully landed back on Earth after trips to space. SpaceX has said its eventual plan is to re-use those rockets, which the organization says will slash costs.

“That is a huge indicator that technology is changing rapidly, it’s driving the cost of access to space down, and what does that mean for Canadians? It means we’re going to be doing more research in space, we’re going to be flying more people to space, and we’re going to be able to go at a cheaper cost. And I think that’s really exciting, I’m really excited about it,” Hansen said.

Hansen underwent the Space Agency’s intensive interview process in 2008 and was officially plucked for the job in 2009. He said this year’s applicants should be prepared for a highly personal experience.

“We’ll really know what kind of people they are: how they react under pressure, whether they have resilience, whether they’re real team players, whether they have emotional intelligence and they can take care of a team, help lead and follow in that team,” he said.

But the payoff is worth it for anyone looking to push their limits and experience a rare and coveted journey, Hadfield says.

“(It) is just the start of a whole new part of life, a whole new adventure in life, of what is probably going to be decades of work – really interesting work – but in pursuit of something right on the edge of magic,” he said.