image credit: SpaceX
Two weeks ago SpaceX made history by successfully sending its Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) and returning it safely to Earth. Like so many others, I was glued to NASA TV throughout the critical mission phases watching as history unfolded. This marks a real turning point in the commercial development of low Earth orbit. Although this was a cargo demonstration mission, it will pave the way for manned flights in both the private and public sectors, which is good news for NASA astronauts since they need a ride to the ISS. "Dragon took one giant leap last week in restoring an American path to space." That's what Astronaut Tom Jones had to say in a recent Popular Mechanics article.

Against the backdrop of the SpaceX achievement, Southern California Public Radio interviewed me for a story titled "Dream jobs: What's it like to be an astronaut?" The 7-minute comprehensive story also includes statements from NASA, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic representatives. Listen here or read the transcript:

For an even more in depth, personal take on aspiring to be an astronaut during this transitional period in spaceflight, check out my recent 4-part Moonandback video interview. Other recent media articles and appearances, including two new guest spots on The Space Show, are listed on my media page.

So, now that we know NASA astronauts will have options for getting to space and aren't going extinct anytime soon, what about the current selection cycle? Like the other 6,372 applicants to NASA's current astronaut selection opportunity, I received a postcard in the mail from NASA in May confirming receipt of my application. This is the second highest number or applicants the space agency has ever received, which is quite remarkable considering NASA no longer has an operational spaceship of its own. Due to the high volume of applications, the Astronaut Selection Office has amended its timeline to allow for more time determining the Highly Qualified applicants. The schedule seems to have slipped by about two months from their original timeline.

While I was in Houston a few weeks ago, I met with Astronaut Selection Manager Duane Ross at the Johnson Space Center. I thanked him personally for the December webinar on astronaut selection, and we discussed general aspects of the current selection cycle. Mr. Ross confirmed that they had narrowed down the pool to about 4200 Qualified applicants. That means more than 2000, or about 34%, of the applicants did not meet the minimum qualifications. I asked if that was a high number, and he said it is the highest percentage of unqualified applicants he can recall in a selection. We guessed that perhaps the ease of the USAJOBS application process contributed to the higher number of unqualified applicants. Maybe the inspirational things companies like SpaceX are doing helped boost the numbers too.

When I was in middle school, I had the opportunity to visit Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. The first thing I did when I got there was ask where the zero gravity room was. Unfortunately, it turned out that such a room didn't exist, but I learned that astronauts do train in zero gravity aboard parabolic flights. Ever since I have wanted to get on one of those flights to experience the freedom of floating in microgravity and better appreciate what it takes to train as an astronaut. Now that dream has come true.

There are two ways one can get on a parabolic flight. If you have a few thousand dollars to burn, you can purchase a flight as a tourist with the Zero Gravity Corporation for 15 parabolas - or about 6 minutes - of reduced gravity fun. I was tantalizing close to making that happen in 2010, but it just didn't work out. The other way to fly in microgravity is to get involved with a research or education program requiring parabolic flight. If you are a K-12 teacher, you have ample opportunities from both NASA and the private sector. However, since I am not a teacher, that leaves research as the only practical option available. It took a lot of work, but I finally made it happen through Astronauts4Hire (A4H) in a recent parabolic flight campaign facilitated by NASA.

image credit: NASA

Next PostNewer Posts Previous PostOlder Posts Home