Two years ago, I asked for your help to raise money for the FMARS expedition. You responded with generous donations that helped reach more than half of my goal.  Now I need your help again.  Please consider donating to my Astronaut Training Fund so I can take the next step important step in my professional development as a prospective astronaut.

Almost everyone has dreamed of floating in space above the majestic Earth.  Until recently becoming an astronaut was reserved only for the most elite test pilots, engineers, and scientists.  Now, the emerging private spaceflight industry will bring space into reach for many more people.  These spacecraft will need highly trained crews to manage experiments and payloads since science, in addition to tourism, will be a major driver of of the new industry.

With a well-rounded scientitic resume, I have a real shot at becoming an astronaut.  After all, in 2009 I made it to the Highly Qualified round (top 3-12%) of NASA's astronaut selection.  Last year I co-founded the Astronauts4Hire nonprofit organization as a training cooperative to help astronaut hopefuls like me to come together and realize our astronaut aspirations.  We have negotiated special prices with providers to complete training courses in July 2011That's just over two month away!

My summer training experience will begin at Survival Systems USA in Connecticut, where my colleagues and I will complete emergency egress and sea survival training. This will help us prepare for emergency situations involving a water landing of the spacecraft.  Then, we will go to the NASTAR Center in Pennsylvania, where we will complete the Suborbital Scientist Training Program, which includes spinning up to 6G in a centrifuge to adapt to the forces experienced during spaceflights.  We will also spend time in a hypobaric chamber to prepare for emergency situations when the spacecraft cabin could lose oxygen pressure.

NASTAR video

Of course, I plan to blog throughout the training and will keep donors especially informed.  All contribution amounts, no matter how small, help.  For every donation of $100 or more, I will send you a special memento from the training too.  In addition, I will optionally display your name and/or logo on my website and flightsuit if you contribute $500 or more.  Everyone will get to see video of me undergoing the training so that you can judge for yourself whether I have the Right Stuff to be a commercial astronaut.

Survival Systems USA video

As a new father of two with one child in a fairly expensive preschool, I really need the support of my friends, family, and followers to help me raise the funds necessary to cross this important milestone of my future astronaut career.  Please help me get there by donating to my Astronaut Training Fund today.  Spread the word to all of your friends too.  Thank you!
How many astronauts does NASA need? That's a question I posed on this website four months ago when NASA commissioned the Committee on Human Spaceflight Crew Operations to review the space agency's astronaut needs. The committee's final report isn't due until August of this year, but a related New York Times article published this weekend caught my eye. The article starts off with the provocative query:

"What happens when you have the right stuff at the wrong time?

It goes on to cite examples of how NASA astronauts are leaving the agency to pursue other career options in the wake of the Space Shuttle and Constellation program cancellations. According to the article, 20 astronauts left NASA in 2010, leaving only 61 currently on the payroll - a far cry from the peak of 150 astronauts in 2000. After all, companies like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are currently hiring astronauts.  Bigelow Aerospace made headlines back in 2007 and 2010 when it advertised it was looking to hire a professional astronaut too.

I found the following statement by the head of NASA's Astronaut Office Dr. Peggy Whitson particularly interesting:

"NASA will still be hiring astronauts... In the next year or two, as more people leave or retire, the agency will recruit a new class of 6 to 12 astronauts... If NASA decides to reduce tours of duty at the space station from six months to four, that would mean a need for even more astronauts."

This is the first time I've seen a public report giving any reputable details on NASA's next astronaut selection. I find it heartening that NASA is not planning on a dramatic downsizing of its astronaut corps.  This points to a great deal of trust in both Russia and the burgeoning Commercial Crew & Cargo program, which just last week awarded four Space Act Agreements as part of its Commercial Crew Development (CCDev2) initiative. Note: When NASA talks about "Commercial Crew", it is referring to the vehicles and launch systems, not the crewmembers themselves. As far as I know, NASA has no plans to privatize its astronaut corps.

So to all of you astronaut hopefuls out there, you have a year or two to load up your resume in anticipation of the next NASA astronaut selection!

Today the world celebrates a very special anniversary. On this day in 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first person to visit space, ushering in a new era for humanity as a spacefaring species.  An instant worldwide hero, Gagarin has served as an inspirational figure to astronauts and the populace else ever since.  Since 1962, the Soviet Union (now Russia) has observed April 12 as Cosmonautics Day, and for the past decade the world has celebrated every April 12 as Yuri's Night.  Now in 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution officially proclaiming April 12 as the International Day of Human Space Flight.

Upon returning to Earth, Gagarin said, "When I orbited the Earth, I saw how beautiful our planet is. We must protect and preserve this beauty and not destroy it." This is a common theme expressed by astronauts - that the Earth is fragile and up to all of us to protect.  I think that is one of the most important legacies Gagarin and the space program have left us. From the vantage point of space, we can see the Earth as a whole system.  Petty political problems don't matter.  Every action has an effect, so we must all strive to do what we can to maintain the proper natural balance in our planet's ecosystem.

But what did Gagarin see on his 108-minute flight some 327 kilometers (203 miles) above the Earth's surface? That's a question the makers of the film First Orbit wanted to answer.  Astronaut Paolo Nespoli and documentary filmmaker Christopher Riley teamed up to film, as closely as possible, the same vistas Gagarin would have seen from his Vostok 1 spacecraft from the new ISS cupola window. The full-length documentary video matches the duration of the first human flight in space. Pop some corn and invite your friends to watch with you. This is good stuff.

A behind-the-scenes "making of First Orbit" video and National Geographic interview with filmmaker Christopher Riley are both highly recommended too.  A really good gallery of photos from Gagarin's Vostok I flight is available at Other good galleries are at NASA History and National Geographic Russianspaceweb provides a wealth of historical information on the flight too.

Although I think most of us look upon this anniversary as something to celebrate, it is bittersweet.  After all, NASA's Space Shuttle program, which shares its anniversary with Yuri's famous flight, is closing up shop this year.  The surviving shuttles will be mothballed and sent to museums.  What will come next?  More importantly, what is driving us to explore space now?  Is it even cost effective to send humans to space, or should we just send unmanned spacecraft at a fraction of the price?  Two great opinion pieces on these subjects and more are a New York Times article by Michael Benson and Space Review article by Jeff Foust.

X PRIZE Foundation Chairman and CEO Peter Diamandis thinks the answer lies in the private sector.  As he states in his Yuri's Night toast below, Diamandis believes that investments by wealthy individuals in exponential technologies like nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, clean energy, and even spaceflight will fuel an ever-increasing growth in exploration that "cannot be stopped by any one government or any one failure."

I first met Dr. Diamandis in St. Louis in 2004 following the successful completion the world's first two commercial spaceflights that won the Ansari X PRIZE.  We talked for a while about spaceflight and the possibilities for the future.  He inspired me to complete programs in Space Studies at the International Space University (which he co-founded) and the University of North Dakota.

I started this blog three and a half years ago to chronicle my progress as a NASA astronaut applicant.  Then, I met astronaut Yvonne Cagle, who got me interested in the scientific opportunities on upcoming commercial suborbital vehicles.  Along with people I met through this blog, as well as my FMARS and MDRS missions, I co-founded Astronauts4Hire last year to create a new type of astronaut who is available on a contract basis for space missions.  We timed the birth of Astronauts4Hire to occur on April 12 along with the Vostok 1 and Space Shuttle anniversary milestones.  I like to think of these three events as signifying the start of three eras of human spaceflight: 1961-1980 was the pioneering era begun by Yuri Gagarin and epitomized by Apollo; 1981-2010 was the Space Shuttle era where operations in low-earth orbit became somewhat more routine; and 2011-onward is the commercial spaceflight era that will carry us forward.

Last week, BBC transportation correspondent Richard Scott released an exclusive video tour of the unfinished SpaceShipTwo (SS2) cabin interior. He is the first journalist allowed inside Virgin Galactic's spaceship. In the video, he gives viewers a firsthand tour of the vehicle's cabin, which is still under construction at the Mojave Air and Spaceport.

The full BBC article also includes two additional videos where Scott interviews Scaled Composites test pilot Peter Siebold and tours the Spaceport America facility, where SS2 will eventually be based. Siebold has flown the new spacecraft on two glide flights and described it as "exhilarating." According to the videos, once the rocket motor is complete, Scaled Composites will test the powered flight capabilities of the vehicle and plans to start taking paying customers into space by 2013.  This is big news, as previous reports from Virgin had pointed to commercial flights as soon as late 2011.  I guess the scheduled slipped.

Screenshot from video of the SS2 cabin (credit: BBC).

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