27 amazing photos that show what it was like to work for NASA throughout the years

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NASA on The Commons/Flickr

There are only 45 active NASA astronauts in the world today – and fewer than 300 former ones since the organization’s inception in 1958.

But it’s a highly sought-after job.

In 2016, a whopping 18,300 people applied for the 2017 astronaut class. Only eight to 14 people will be selected, making the acceptance rate less than .08%. (By comparison, Harvard – one of the most competitive universities in the world – accepted 5.9% of its applicants in 2014.)

To see what it’s like to be part of this exclusive group, we sifted through hundreds of photos of NASA astronauts throughout the years. We also found images of people in other roles at NASA, like researchers and administrators.

Below are 27 incredible photos of NASA astronauts and employees dating back to 1959:


A researcher checks on Sam, a Rhesus monkey who rode on a Little Joe spacecraft and experienced three minutes of weightlessness in 1959. Test animals were often used during Project Mercury.

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NASA on The Commons/Flickr

In 1961, Dean Sheibley and Barbara Johnson perform studies in NASA’s now-defunct Plum Brook Reactor Facility’s chemistry lab — the organization’s first and last nuclear reactor.

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NASA on The Commons/Flickr

Former US president Harry S. Truman stopped by NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. on November 3, 1961. Former NASA administrator James E. Webb gave him a tour and a collection of rocket models for his presidential library.

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NASA on The Commons/Flickr

Dr. Nancy Roman looks over a model of an observatory in 1962. She had joined NASA two years previously and served as the chief of astronomy and relativity programs in the office of cosmic background explorer.

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NASA on The Commons/Flickr

On March 23, 1963, NASA employee Orville Driver demonstrates the size of a water line used in a NASA construction project.

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NASA on The Commons/Flickr

In a dry lake bed in the Mojave Desert near the Dryden Flight Research Center, pilots speak over the M2-F1 lifting body aircraft on November 12, 1963. Sometime later, the vehicle was damaged during a drill due to an issue with the landing gear.

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NASA on The Commons/Flickr

NASA’s Gemini 6 prime crew go through suiting up exercises on October 20, 1965.

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NASA on The Commons/Flickr

Flight controllers monitor the Apollo 4 space mission in NASA’s mission operations control room on November 9, 1967.

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NASA on The Commons/Flickr

Marjorie Townsend and a colleague discuss the X-ray Explorer Satellite during preflight tests at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center on December 2, 1970. Townsend was the first woman to receive an engineering degree from George Washington University and joined NASA in 1959.

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NASA on The Commons/Flickr

Skylab 3 crew members Alan L. Bean (foreground), Owen K. Garriott (left), and Jack R. Lousma pose for a picture on February 2, 1972. They spent 59 days and 11 hours in orbit.

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NASA on The Commons/Flickr

Edward G. Gibson (seated) and William R. Pogue discuss a mission procedure at the Johnson Space Center on September 10, 1973.

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NASA on The Commons/Flickr

The first all-female crew of scientific experimenters works on an exercise on December 16, 1974.

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NASA on The Commons/Flickr

Despite the zero gravity atmosphere, astronaut Joe Engle manages to shave on November 16, 1981.

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NASA on The Commons/Flickr

President Ronald Reagan addresses NASA employees and cuts the cake celebrating the organization’s 25th birthday on October 19, 1983.

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NASA on The Commons/Flickr

Astronaut Dale A. Gardner jokes around on a satellite retrieval mission on November 14, 1984.

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NASA on The Commons/Flickr

NASA scientists load a model into a test section on November 20, 1985.

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NASA on The Commons/Flickr

Astronaut Mae Jemison works in the Spacelab-J module on October 22, 1992.

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NASA on The Commons/Flickr

Astronaut N. Jan Davis works on the Remote Manipulator System (RMS) on the aft flight deck of the Space Shuttle Discovery. This photo was taken on August 19, 1997 during a 12-day mission in Earth-orbit.

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NASA on The Commons/Flickr

Dr. Marshall Shepherd gives a lecture on NASA’s hurricane research on September 8, 2004.

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NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr

A technician works on the James Webb Space Telescope on November 9, 2005 at the NASA Goddard Flight Center.

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NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr

Betsy Pugel tests materials for thermal protection systems on April 20, 2007.

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PRONASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr

Engineer Dave Folta tests out the Goddard CAVE, NASA’s visualization facility that simulates an orbital environment on April 6, 2009.

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NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr

Engineer Erin Wilson tapes up the electrical cables of special optical equipment on May 10, 2012.

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NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr

NASA scientists celebrate as the first images of Mars come in from the Curiosity rover on August 5, 2012.

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NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr

Steven Christe works on the Solar Aspect System for the HEROES mission in August 28, 2013.

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NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr

NASA scientists inspect the sun shield on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope on June 18, 2015.

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NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio visits NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to interview NASA scientists on April 23, 2016.

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NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr