Who says you need a space shuttle program to have astronauts?
For roughly the past five decades, few dreams have captured the imagination of American youngsters more than space travel. No kid in this country, when asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” hasn’t at some point looked up slack-jawed and starry-eyed and answered, “Astronaut.”
Well, the NASA space shuttle program may be no longer, but that doesn’t mean kids can’t still dream of becoming astronauts. While federal and state government branches are paring back amid massive spending cuts, one area that will be ramping up hiring over the next few years: NASA astronauts.
Apparently astronauts have become something of an endangered species, declining from about 150 in the mid 1990s to less than half at a current total of 60, “with a number of space shuttle pilots retiring along with their vehicle just this year.”
According to USA Today, the National Research Council has issued a new report called “Preparing for the High Frontier⎯the Role and Training of NASA Astronauts in the Post-Space Shuttle Era.” The report addresses the dwindling ranks of astronauts and issues a mandate to hire and train more for the future.
Of the current fleet of astronauts, the paper says, “NASA expects to see that number stabilize at or below that number, says the report, and hire 15 more astronauts over the next five years.”
Sure, that only amounts to three new job openings per year. But with August’s labor report showing a whopping 0 jobs added, it’s something.
So with the space shuttle program over, what are these new astronauts going to be doing, exactly? The report says: “While there is currently no clear plan to send U.S. astronauts beyond low Earth orbit in the foreseeable future, it remains a possibility, particularly in light of NASA’s recent announcement of the agency’s intention to develop a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle for follow-on exploration of space.”
What exactly is “follow-on exploration of space”? I have no idea. It sounds like something out of Star Trek. And, in fact, the report’s reference to the “high frontier” sounds an awful lot like the franchise’s “final frontier” tagline.
However, most astronauts will not go to space—at least not any time in the next few years. Instead, of the training the report says, “it is about developing the skills and ability to work together in an environment that is fast-paced, physically stressful, and carries potentially severe penalties for failure.”
Hey—in this job market, you take what you can get.