A few weeks ago, GOOD Magazine published a very entertaining infographic titled "Should You Give Up Your Dream of Being an Astronaut?" in response to a USA Today article interviewing Duane Ross on the changing prospects for NASA astronauts. I really like how well they were able to lightheartedly boil down some rather complex career decision factors into such simple binary choices.
The main criticism I have for the flowchart is that it assumes the only way to be an astronaut is through NASA. It ignores the commercial pathways to space. For example, one can go into space and technically be an astronaut without having a science or engineering degree as long as one can afford the ticket as a private spaceflight participant. Assuming the chart is targeted towards prospective professional astronauts only rather than tourists, perhaps after the "Do you speak Russian?" question's "No" choice, there should have been another question like "Are you a trained commercial astronaut?" In other words, can you fly on commercial space vehicles? That gives you another pathway towards becoming an astronaut that is not reliant upon Russia or NASA.
Only two weeks from now, I will undergo the NASTAR Suborbital Scientist Training Program to help prepare me for upcoming commercial spaceflight opportunities. Please consider chipping in to help offset my expenses, and stay tuned to this blog for updates on the experience.
Last night NBC Nightly News featured a nice segment on the new space race. Unlike the competition between the US and USSR that fueled the first space race, the modern one involves private companies like SpaceX, Boeing, Orbital Sciences, Sierra Nevada, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR competing with one another to produce the safest, most cost effective vehicles to transport astronauts, cargo, and tourists to orbital and suborbital space. Of course, the commercial spaceflight era really began in 2004 when SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X PRIZE, so this video isn't news to anyone who follows the space industry. However, it's significant because it reached a large mainstream audience of viewers in the general public.
As the 30-year Space Shuttle era draws to a close next month, NASA will have to rely on the Russians for a ride during the next few years. That's why NASA's 2009 ASCANs were subject to more restrictive anthropomorphic requirements than their Shuttle-faring predecessors. Finalists had to be between 62-75 inches tall in order to fit properly in the Soyuz TMA spacecraft. Taller or shorter applicants were disqualified. However, once other vehicles like NASA's Multi-Person Crew Vehicle (MPCV), SpaceX's Dragon, and Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo are proven safe for human transport, we could see a great widening of selection requirements so that almost anyone with the right stuff will be able to fly into space.
That's why we may see the emergence of "After the Shuttle: Astronauts for Hire", which just happens to be the title of a cover story Discover Magazine article featuring an interview with me and former astronaut Ken Bowersox. The 2-page article focuses on how what it means to be an astronaut is changing in the post-Shuttle era. Get your copy of the June issue on newsstands now!
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