After 3 years of hard work, I am proud to report that I completed my M.S. in Space Studies from the School of Aerospace Studies at the University of North Dakota (UND).  The multi-disciplinary program prepares students to become leaders in space exploration and development through a wide-ranging curriculum spanning science, engineering, applications, policy, law, history, business, and management.  As this post's title suggests, I can now call myself a double-master, as I previously earned a M.A. in Earth & Planetary Sciences from Washington University in St. Louis.

Now, let's take a trip down memory lane [insert funny time warp sound effect here]:

It was summer of 2007.  Facebook was taking over the world.  The Simpsons was finally available in movie form.  NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft had just made its second fly-by of Venus en route to Mercury, and the Phoenix spacecraft launched toward the Martian north pole.  The Peru earthquake prompted a tsunami warning while I was away on vacation in Scotland.  In the midst of this backdrop, I compared several academic options with space-related distance degree programs, took the GRE exam, and enrolled in the UND Space Studies program starting in the fall 2007 semester.  The "Astronaut for Hire" blog was born as a way for me to talk about my impressions as I re-connected with my space exploration passion.

Just weeks after school had begun, NASA announced it was looking for astronauts, and my blog quickly found its voice.  I did my best to serve the astronaut hopeful community as a source of information in an environment in which information from NASA was sorely lacking.  That is still the main purpose of this blog today.  By November, Japan's KAGUYA spacecraft was returning stunning HD video from the Moon (also in 2008 and 2009), and my son was born.  In the span of three months, I had gone from being just a mild-mannered geophysicist protecting 2/3 of the world from tsunamis to a blogger + part-time student + astronaut applicant + father.  I had to give up running marathons in lieu of shorter distances because there was no time to train.  The tone for the next three years was set, and the theme was multi-tasking.  A full-night's sleep became a fuzzy distant memory.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visits the GCTC.
(credit: Alexey Nikolsky-AFP/Getty Images)
The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) announced today that its director Anatoly Perminov signed the order officially creating the "United Cosmonaut Corps" (UCC).  As a previous press release detailed, the new UCC unites Russia's three separate cosmonaut groups into one at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) in Star City.  Currently, GCTC has 22 cosmonauts, RSC-Energia has 17 cosmonauts, and IBMP has 1 cosmonaut, so the new UCC will have 40 cosmonauts in total. The main purpose of the consolidation is to "enhance cosmonaut selection and training effectiveness and to maintain coordinated national policy in human space missions."

This move comes as the latest in a series of re-structuring initiatives in Russia's space program.  On April 2009, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a presidential decree transferring the GCTC to ROSCOSMOS from the Defense Ministry.

PS: In un-related news, Congratulations to SpaceX on the successful launch and landing of the Dragon spacecraft!

ReelNASA posted an illuminating video with Astronaut Scott Kelly giving viewers a rare peek inside the personal crew quarters on the ISS. I found it interesting that ISS inhabitants can do online banking or shopping from the privacy of their own rooms. Although considerably smaller, the cramped ISS crew quarters remind me of the crew staterooms at MDRS and FMARS.

In a previous video tour on the ISS, Kelly shared the stunning panoramic views of Earth from the ISS cupola. In its 10 months of operation, the cupola has quickly become a favorite spot for astronauts to photograph the Earth.

That is the question set before a special blue ribbon panel according to a provocative article appearing in the Orlando Sentinel (and LA Times) this week, which made the not-so-surprising announcement that, "the White House has called for a 10-month study of the appropriate 'role and size' of the 64-member astronaut corps after the final shuttle mission next year."

It was only a matter of time before the bad economy, combined with increasing political pressure to cut government spending, would lead to this question being asked.  After all, with the Space Shuttle's final launches upon us, there are not many opportunities left for NASA astronauts to fly.  According to the article, more than half of the 64 current astronauts are without a scheduled mission.

While more than 30 ISS crew slots have not been assigned for missions through 2020, some are questioning whether less expensive "regular" scientists and engineers, rather than those who have undergone expensive NASA astronaut training, would be able to fill those roles.  In other words, it may be time for a commercial astronaut service.  NASA is even looking for a nonprofit to manage the ISS's National Lab research.

A record 13 astronauts and cosmonauts on the ISS on 25 July 2009 (source:

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