Friday, February 09, 2007

So Who Wants To Be an Astronaut?

A few thoughts on this week's unfortunate events. The typical astronaut candidate waits 7+ years to go into Space. A woman can graduate from the US Naval Academy, become a test pilot and an astronaut, yet still wait 10 years for her one flight into Space. Most of us need time to care for emotional needs, yet astronaut candidates undergo a punishing schedule. It is a tribute to the quality of people selected that more of them don't snap.

In 2003 the General Accounting Office concluded that NASA was overmanned with astronauts. Nevertheless in 2004 NASA held an astronaut selection, their first in 4 years. They selected 11 candidates from over 3,000 applications. Today there are about 125 active-duty astronauts (minus one). The term "Astronaut Corps" is a misnomer. A corps is 3 divisions or about 50,000 soldiers. Since 100 soldiers form a company, Astronaut Company would be a more accurate term.

14 more Space Shuttle missions are planned between now and 2010, when the system is scheduled to be retired. (Room has also been made for 2 additional contingency missions.) Even if each flight carries seven crewmembers, there are only 91 seats left. Some of those seats will be occupied by those who have already flown. At least 1/4 of the current astronaut company will never get to fly the Shuttle again.

Following retirement of the shuttles, there will be a 4-year gap when the US will have NO manned spacecraft. That will be the longest such gap since 1975-1981, between the Apollo-Soyuz mission and Columbia's first flight. 13 manned flights are planned for Orion leading to a Moon landing in December 2019. If the average mission carries four crewmembers, that is only 52 total seats.

Each year Hollywood releases hundreds of feature films. With all the odds against being a successful actor, one's chances are greater of starring in a movie than of becoming an astronaut. That should not stop us from trying. The dream of spaceflight drives us to accomplish great things.

10 Comments:

Blogger CarlBrannen said...

At U. Cal. Irvine, it was not unusual for students to be employed in costmes at Disneyland. They had some complaints about this.

5:52 PM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

That's show business. I once knew a girl who was Mary Poppins, at least she did not have to wear a furry costume in the heat.

12:03 AM  
Anonymous Frank Glover said...

And one dressed as Tigger, recently made news when he struck a kid.

I guess there's pressure at all levels...

8:26 AM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

Welcome Frank, and right you are. Astronaut candidates have to make public appearances in those blue suits when they probably just want privacy.

9:01 AM  
Anonymous a quantum diaries survivor said...

Hi Louise,

for those who are still young, like you and me ;-), chances of getting in outer space are largely independent on whether NASA hires them... In thirty years, it will be as common as a honeymoon trip to phuket.

...At least I hope so!
Cheers,
T.

10:05 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

I don't know what the ratio is for Americans, but I assume it is similar to that of Canadians: thousands of Canadians have won the 6/49 lottery in Canada, but only five Canadians have gone to space.

And NASA wonders why what they do doesn't resonate with the 18-to-25 crowd, when it is several times more likely that one would win the lottery than become a NASA astronaut.

Perhaps if NASA wasn't so busy attempting to be the entire space industry all by themselves, but was instead developing the enabling technologies necessary to make space travel common to the masses, they'd be getting more support.

If NACA had operated the way that NASA operates, there would be only one airport and three airplanes in the USA, and passengers would have to gamble several years of their life on the off chance that one day, they too could ride in one of the airplanes.

2:22 PM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

Thanks Tommaso, that gives us hope. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy Yucatan.

Right you are, Ed, but recent events show that private Space gets a LOT of interest. People of all ages would like to be the Astronaut Farmer and go up privately.

3:40 PM  
Blogger serge said...

Louise, I've been following the space programs closely since the 1950s and I recall over the years a few uncorroborated allegations about the sex life of some of the Mercury astronauts, for example. I did not take these allegations seriously at the time but the recent criminal investigation involving a Shuttle astronaut are bringing them back to my forefront, literally. If these old allegations have some truth to them, then it may be that being an astronaut of any gender does seriously mess up your personal life. I also wouldn't be surprised if this kind of information, if it existed, had been kept hidden by much work on the part of one or more gov agencies. I also wonder if it may be easier to get this kind of information from the Russian side.

It may be that going into space is so unusual that some astronauts, being ordinary mortals, after all, get really messed up in the head, to use an old Irish expression. The human mind is so fragile and so young on evolutionary time scale that very few of us may be able to withstand its personal effects. When space travel will be like car travel today, then maybe the personal effects will diminish, but we are a long way from that and until then we may have to improve our screening techniques. We may even have to do some genetic engineering (natural of course) in order to produce more members of our species that can go to space and live normal lives.

The requirements for being able to go in space and live normal lives on Earth afterwards may be the same as the ones requires for a technological species to survive more than a few generations: humility. That may be what Jesus meant when he said "The meek shall inherit the Earth."

3:58 PM  
Blogger Rae Ann said...

Thanks for your perspective on this. The unfortunate recent events are just a reminder that we all are human and have weaknesses despite whatever training, education, etc. we have had.

6:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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10:54 AM  

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