NASA and OPM take steps to modernize astronaut applications

The Office of Personnel Management has partnered again with the space agency to introduce existing online capabilities for astronaut applications.
NASA Artemis astronaut candidates attend their graduation ceremony at Johnson Space Center in Houston on March 5, 2024. (Photo by Mark Felix / AFP via Getty Images)

The most recent astronaut applicants to NASA were treated to a more modernized approach than their predecessors. Through a partnership with the Office of Personnel Management, the latest hiring cycle featured an automated application and online pre-screen assessment.  

While the astronaut process itself did not change, NASA became aware of OPM’s systems that support automation alongside continuous evaluations and improvements through the partnership between agencies, J. Patrick Sharpe, USA Hire program manager at OPM, said in an email to FedScoop. NASA is now taking advantage of features and capabilities offered by OPM-managed sites, including USAJOBS, USA Staffing and USA Hire. 

Now, according to Sharpe, the astronaut application process is fully automated and has a new “online competency-based pre-screen assessment.” Additionally, NASA has since implemented all three integration offerings from USA Staffing: request processing, new hire and data APIs. 

Sharpe noted that once the cycle is done for 2024 astronauts, both OPM and NASA plan to review the application process and determine any necessary changes or improvements. Significantly, OPM reported having added online interviewing capabilities and accessible mobile assessments to USA Hire specifically over the past year, and “will be working with NASA and other federal agencies in the near future to fully implement these capabilities as part of the hiring process,” according to Sharpe.


“USAJOBS continuously works to assess and improve the user experience using human centered design methodology,” Sharpe said. “USAJOBS improved the application experience for all federal occupations, including the astronaut candidate, by implementing a new user interface explaining the application process more clearly and clarifying the required application materials.”

Sharpe said that the modernized approach for the astronaut application process in concert with the pre-screen assessment “reduced burden on NASA’s HR staff and allied the Astronaut Office to focus on the highest quality candidates in the applicant pool for further evaluation.”

This is the second time that NASA and OPM have teamed up for the astronaut application process, the first being in 2020 when OPM reportedly assisted with a manual review of applications for NASA’s partially automated application process.

Sharpe said that because of the “success of the 2020 application cycle,” NASA decided to partner with OPM for 2024. 

For the astronaut position, OPM reported that NASA received over 12,000 applicants during the 2020 cycle. The space agency then selected 10 applicants from the original pool, according to a release shared with FedScoop. 


“NASA’s maximization of USA Staffing’s data and interconnection capabilities has increased automation, transparency, data quality and enhanced the overall hiring manager and HR user experience throughout the hiring process,” Sharpe said in the email.

The hiring systems for federal agencies go through “extensive usability testing” as part of the evaluation and review of the technology and processes for each site, according to Sharpe. 

Sharpe shared that USA Staffing is currently working on new capabilities for high-volume hiring; he reported that the staffing system is collaborating with multiple agencies to support and understand the challenges that come with high-volume hiring. 

USA Staffing is looking to design new tools so HR professionals and hiring managers can more efficiently hire at scale. The new capabilities, according to Sharpe, will include expanded integrations for personnel processing and tracking systems, the ability for agency leaders to establish hiring goals and provide data to track progress. 

Sharpe said that these changes will help those responsible for hiring to have data flow across systems “without duplicative effort and reducing the risk of human error.” 


By providing data and offering the ability to establish hiring goals, Sharpe said agencies can report to Congress and identify areas in need of improvement as well as find “creative ways to connect high-quality applicants for federal jobs with managers who have the legal authority to hire them.”

NASA did not respond to FedScoop’s request for comment by the time of publication.

Caroline Nihill

Written by Caroline Nihill

Caroline Nihill is a reporter for FedScoop in Washington, D.C., covering federal IT. Her reporting has included the tracking of artificial intelligence governance from the White House and Congress, as well as modernization efforts across the federal government. Caroline was previously an editorial fellow for Scoop News Group, writing for FedScoop, StateScoop, CyberScoop, EdScoop and DefenseScoop. She earned her bachelor’s in media and journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after transferring from the University of Mississippi.

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