The Highest and the Lowest Astronaut Salary in 2023

Is an astronaut a well-paid job? Must be, right? Especially if we consider the risks and the simple fact that there aren’t too many astronauts to begin with — so, one can expect a few exclusivity bonuses. In practice, the competition in this field is fierce, and the actual astronaut salary, should a candidate make it to the prestigious ‘Space Corps,’ depends on many factors, starting from the agency that pays it. Besides, like in any other profession, a lot depends on the experience level, mission type, and any additional skills necessary to complete this mission. So, let’s look at how much astronauts are making in different countries.

Astronaut in space

Astronaut Salary in NASA

The highest and the lowest astronaut salary in 2023 NASA made public was $212,322 and $66,167 a year, respectively. Why such a huge difference? The space agency is tied to the US civil service pay scale, a.k .a. the General Schedule. Based on this grade, entry-level astronauts can expect a starter payment of $66,167 a year. On the other hand, many NASA astronauts are former military pilots, so the payment will be determined by rank and flight hours. The highest entry-level compensation in NASA can reach $161,141, with rank and experience considered.

Besides, space crews have different levels of responsibility. Pilots and commanders earn the most, from $159,393 to the highest limit of $212,322. Mission specialists can count on a compensation of $97,279-$147,575. Senior missions specialists will earn more — from $121,866 to $181,858. On the whole, the average astronaut salary per hour in NASA varies from $20 to $26. Not exactly an astronomical figure, right?

Astronaut Salary in Private Companies

On the other hand, NASA is not the only potential US employer for astronauts. And we all know that qualified experts can earn more in private companies than they normally do in the government sector. The space industry is not different, but what is the salary of a new astronaut? According to Glassdoor, SpaceX pays its astronauts $112,000-$208,000 a year, with the lower figure, predictably, for new specialists. Blue Origin seems to be a more generous employer, promising over $200,000 per mission and a set of bonus packages that may eventually add up to $300,000 per mission.

At this point, you may wonder — who is the highest-paid astronaut ever? Orbital Today says it was Neil Armstrong, explaining that his 1969 official salary of $27,401 a year would translate into $200,000 in today’s prices. But then again — Neil Armstrong is a legend, and he took enormous risks as the first person to set foot on the Moon. His compensation for the extra ‘moon-time,’ over 2.5 hours of it, is equivalent to $240+ in today’s prices.

So, NASA’s highest-paid and most famous astronaut earned less in a year than a civilian pilot makes in one Blue Origin mission today! But perhaps other countries are prepared to pay more. Let’s find out.

Astronaut during space mission

ESA Astronaut Salary

European Space Agency calculates the salary of astronauts per month instead of per year. The monthly ESA compensation varies from €2,300 to €5,600, which translates into $2,550-$6,200. Multiplied by 12 months in the year, we get an annual salary of $30,600-$74,400. However, ESA is usually more generous with the bonus packages, and astronauts who have been on space missions can expect a significant ‘level-up’ after their first flight. So, the entry-level specialist (A2) will generally earn around $66,000 per year, but the A4 pay-grade level, assigned after the first space flight, will result in $95,000+ annual income.

All in all, ESA salaries are lower than in NASA, but even that is not the lowest astronaut salary limit.

ISRO Astronaut Salary

With Russia’s isolation after its treacherous attack on Ukraine, the Indian space sector has acquired quite a few extra launch clients. And even though the country is not the most famous space player — not in the West, at least — it has a long history of space research and exploration, dating back to the 1960s.

Still, ISRO astronauts do not enjoy the same level of compensation as their Western colleagues — their USD annual salary equivalent ranges from $2,400 to $12,000. But, in all fairness, one should note that the price range in India is also significantly lower, and ISRO offers its employees way more benefits than any other agency worldwide — housing, tuition fees for children, solid retirement packages, and much more.

With this in mind, what is the highest salary for astronauts? Here, NASA and private US companies take the lead. Of course, space is an actively developing industry, so things may change soon enough. The plans, at least, are very ambitious — Moon bases, Mars colonization, orbital hotels, and whatnot.

Besides, as more space tourist flights become available to civilians, compensations for pilots and space ‘flight attendants’ may yet grow — as more people start paying for these expensive tickets. Or, who knows — the price may drop down. Right now, only time can tell because the market is not oversaturated yet.

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