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Astronaut Careers May Stall Without the Shuttle

kdawson posted about 4 years ago | from the buddy-can-you-spare-a-rocket dept.

Government 142

Hugh Pickens writes "NPR reports that former shuttle commander Chris Ferguson now moonlights as a drummer for MAX Q, a classic rock band comprised solely of astronauts. 'Perhaps we'll have some more time to practice here once the shuttle program comes to a slow end,' says Ferguson, raising the question — what does the future hold for NASA's elite astronaut corps after the agency mothballs its aging space shuttles in the coming months? NASA currently has about 80 active astronauts, as well as nine new astronaut candidates hired last year. But there will be fewer missions after the shuttle program ends, and those will be long-duration stays at the space station. When the Apollo program ended, astronauts had to wait years before the space shuttles were ready to fly, but the situation was different back then. Space historian Roger Launius says, 'Even before the end of the Apollo program, NASA had an approved, follow-on program — the space shuttle — and a firm schedule for getting it completed.' These days, no one knows what NASA will be doing next. Meanwhile, private companies are moving forward with their efforts, raising the possibility of astronauts for hire. NASA administrator and former astronaut Charlie Bolden talked about that prospect earlier this year, saying it would be a different approach for NASA to rent not just the space vehicle, but also a private crew of astronauts to go with it. 'When we talk about going to distant places like Mars, the moon, [or] an asteroid, we will not be able to take someone off the street, train them for a few weeks and expect them to go off and do the types of missions we will demand of them,' said Bolden."

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142 comments

Don't they already have jobs? (4, Interesting)

HalifaxRage (640242) | about 4 years ago | (#31729600)

I thought most/all US astronauts were experienced Air Force/Navy pilots? Don't they already have jobs?

Re:Don't they already have jobs? (2, Funny)

Iceykitsune (1059892) | about 4 years ago | (#31729620)

yes, going into space, hence the article.

Apollo Cancelation (4, Funny)

WED Fan (911325) | about 4 years ago | (#31730660)

About the time that Apollo was canceled I was just beginning to try to figure out what I wanted to do when I "grew up". Until that point, I was thinking that being an astronaut. Yes, the shuttle was being developed, but that wasn't getting any press at the time. So, after graduation I was still on my original choices:

  1. Policeman
  2. Fireman
  3. Cowboy
  4. Secret Agent

Carter and Ford had basically raped the CIA so secret agent was out. I didn't think there was any money in being a cowboy, but a friend in England suggested I could be a jockey. Fireman was out after my first ride along and I had to look into the brain pan of a kid who wasn't wearing his helmet when he decided to take his motorcycle Christmas present for a spin.

I tried being a cop for awhile.

So, after being a drill instructor, aircraft mechanic, and working in the IC industry for awhile, John Glenn goes back into space and I start thinking, "Hell, the way things are going, my fifth career could be as an astronaut!" But, nooooo, they go and cancel the shuttle and damn near kill the follow on.

So, as of about a month ago, I've bought a ranch in Idaho...

Re:Apollo Cancelation (0, Offtopic)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 4 years ago | (#31731396)

Idaho is cool. I was driving north one night in Idaho, and realized that I had seen no electric lights in more than an hour. So, I started watching, thinking that I had just missed some. I drove, and drove, and drove. No lights. Not even oncoming traffic. No porch lights, no parking lot lights, nothing. I've driven through huge swathes of America that had no power due to blizzards or hurricanes, and saw more lighting! Talk about the wide open spaces. I've never driven so far without seeing lights, anywhere in the United States. What is the population density?

Idaho is cool. Cooler than Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, or even Utah.

Your mileage may vary, of course.

Re:Apollo Cancelation (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | about 4 years ago | (#31732564)

So, after being a drill instructor, aircraft mechanic, and working in the IC industry for awhile, John Glenn goes back into space and I start thinking, "Hell, the way things are going, my fifth career could be as an astronaut!" But, nooooo, they go and cancel the shuttle and damn near kill the follow on.

So, as of about a month ago, I've bought a ranch in Idaho...

I might be movin' to Montana soon
Just to raise me up a crop of Dental Floss Raisin' it up
Waxen it down
In a little white box
I can sell uptown
By myself I wouldn't
Have no boss,
But I'd be raisin' my lonely Dental Floss
Raisin' my lonely Dental Floss
Well I just might grow me some bees
But I'd leave the sweet stuff
For somebody else...
but then, on the other hand
I'd Keep the wax N' melt it down
Pluck some Floss N' swish it aroun'
I'd have me a crop
An' it'd be on top

Re:Don't they already have jobs? (4, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | about 4 years ago | (#31729740)

The shuttle pilots, yes, but pilots are a minority of astronauts these days; more are mission specialists with science or engineering backgrounds and no military experience.

Re:Don't they already have jobs? (5, Informative)

Pinckney (1098477) | about 4 years ago | (#31729816)

I thought so too, so I looked into it. Apparently this was the case in the early days of the program, and is still mostly the case for pilot astronauts. "At least 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. Flight test experience is highly desirable." [1 [nasa.gov]] (In practice, they all seem to be test pilots). This is not a requirement for Mission Specialist Astronauts.

I also suggest browsing some of the astronaut bios from the last couple batches. Of the last five pilot astronauts candidates, all five are former military test pilots. Among the twelve Mission Specialists selected during the same period, there is only one that I can confirm as a test pilot. At least four have a military background, and at least three were pilots before entering the program. At least two others were flight surgeons; this may well mean that they qualified as pilots

Really, though, they're all very well qualified in their respective fields. They may lose their jobs, sure, but I doubt they'll have trouble finding others.

Re:Don't they already have jobs? (1)

trentblase (717954) | about 4 years ago | (#31729856)

Really, though, they're all very well qualified in their respective fields. They may lose their jobs, sure, but I doubt they'll have trouble finding others.

Not only that, but they'll probably find higher paying jobs. The most an astronaut can make is about $100k right now (starting around $65k). With qualifications that beat out thousands of other applicants, they probably turned down much more lucrative offers. They took the job because they wanted to be in space, not for the cash.

So yes, they'll land on their feet. But their dream will probably be gone.

Re:Don't they already have jobs? (0, Flamebait)

ArsonSmith (13997) | about 4 years ago | (#31730312)

but this is slashdot. Everything revolves around money. Nobody anywhere has ever done anything at any time for anything other than cold hard cash. Except the Government of course.

Re:Don't they already have jobs? (1)

linzeal (197905) | about 4 years ago | (#31731984)

Most 20-30 year old hobby programmers I know do things like making Android and Iphone applications, hardly any of them open source. I would not say the hobby open source ethic is dead but it is skewing towards older folk.

Re:Don't they already have jobs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31732808)

It's not so much finding other jobs that is of concern- it's when we need the skills they currently have as astronauts and when they're IN other jobs because they don't have work in that segment that is of concern.

And, it probably should be, no less.

Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (-1, Flamebait)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | about 4 years ago | (#31729610)

I'm hard pressed to believe that the Space Shuttle is the best idea we've come up with in this industry. When I see people shedding tears over the canceled program, I see the same old heavy client programmers who couldn't adapt to web programming.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (2, Insightful)

tpstigers (1075021) | about 4 years ago | (#31729706)

Sorry, but do you think throwing in a reference to programming would earn you some points here? The shuttle program has been wildly successful. While many will be quick to point to the program's 2 best-known (and spectacular) failures, the shuttles have been producing regular and predictable results since the early eighties. I'd say that well over a hundred successful missions in under thirty years adds up to a pretty damn good idea.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (5, Interesting)

QuantumG (50515) | about 4 years ago | (#31729804)

One should judge the success or failure of a program by how well it has achieved the goals it was built to achieve. By that most sensible metric, the Shuttle is a colossal failure. Not only has the Shuttle failed to reduce the cost of launch, it has also failed in its military and flight rate goals. Only someone who is too young to remember the promise of the Shuttle would ever suggest that it has been a "success", let alone wildly so.

Worse yet, Shuttle has set back the goal of a reusable launch vehicle for decades. Whenever anyone suggests that an RLV may be the best way of reducing the costs to space (an obviously true argument, imagine throwing away a 747 after every flight), skeptics need only point to the Space Shuttle.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (3, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | about 4 years ago | (#31730538)

While I would generally agree with what you are saying here, the Shuttle did "prove" that at least in theory a "reusable" vehicle could be built. As a **very** expensive prototype done with six test beds, the Shuttle at least met the engineering test goals of the program, and they did have over 130 different test flights working out some of the bugs in the system with two notable failures.

For an experimental vehicle, I think the Shuttle met its criteria of success, at least comparable to the X-15.... which BTW also took out some lives of some of the test pilots. When viewed from this perspective, the Shuttle program isn't all that bad.

On the other hand, why there are members of Congress that are trying to extend an experimental research vehicle a couple more flights when it has proven itself as unreliable and dangerous merely to take trash down from orbit is beyond me. This next flight of the Shuttle that is supposed to happen tomorrow (Monday) is precisely such a garbage hauler trip.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (2, Insightful)

FlyingBishop (1293238) | about 4 years ago | (#31732088)

But the shuttle proved that a reusable launch vehicle was impractical for equipment launches. Getting things down from orbit is very expensive, so reducing costs requires that you allow anything you don't need to burn up. There's nothing so expensive that it's worth preserving through atmospheric re-entry.

The only case where that's not true is people, but we never send up enough people that a re-entry vehicle the size of the shuttle is justified.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (2, Insightful)

Cold hard reality (1536175) | about 4 years ago | (#31730704)

It's not obviously true that reusability is the best way. Reusability increases the launcher complexity and weight, hence design costs and launcher costs. You produce less launchers, so gain less from mass production. You can produce fewer launchers, but you need to pay for recovery and turnaround.

It may still turn out to be the best way, as SpaceX are trying to prove, but it isn't obvious.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (1)

QuantumG (50515) | about 4 years ago | (#31730750)

Reusable missiles obviously don't make sense. Reusable launch vehicles obviously do make sense. The problem is that people seem to think missiles make good launch vehicles.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (3, Informative)

Cold hard reality (1536175) | about 4 years ago | (#31730794)

So far, missiles are the best launch vehicles by far. This will remain so until we can build engines which don't require air with a specific impulse greater than 800.

The shuttle's failure comes from sticking a plane on top of a missile, that alone increased launcher size by a factor of 4 at least (for the same payload).

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (1)

Cold hard reality (1536175) | about 4 years ago | (#31730820)

Not to mention making it manned, which increased complexity, weight, and cost again. Launch vehicles must be as slim as possible, any excess pound taken to orbit is at least an extra 20 pounds launcher mass.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (0)

QuantumG (50515) | about 4 years ago | (#31730880)

So far, missiles are the best launch vehicles by far.

It should be obvious that a missile is not the pinnacle of launch vehicle technology. Innovation in this market is rare.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (1)

Cold hard reality (1536175) | about 4 years ago | (#31730980)

Can you suggest an alternative?

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (0)

QuantumG (50515) | about 4 years ago | (#31731012)

Sure, a gas and go reusable horizontal takeoff and landing vehicle. I'm partial to two stage to orbit designs, a hydrocarbon lower stage with a liquid hydrogen upper stage, others would argue for a single stage to orbit design - but I've yet to see their numbers close for a manned vehicle. The advancement needed here would be just engine reusability. The cost reduction comes from the massive decrease in the size of the standing army required for ground operations.

Airbreathing engines like what you described would be good for the first stage, but not much good on the second stage.. but they won't be available for at least a decade, in my opinion. And there's so many other great technologies in the works that you may want to incorporate into a generation of vehicles a little further out, they just need to be demonstrated. For example, some MHD reentry enhancement would be nice.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (1)

Cold hard reality (1536175) | about 4 years ago | (#31731100)

Horizontal takeoff designs are no go. Wings are only efficient at very low speeds and altitudes (there's a reason the Concorde is offline); you're increasing efficiency for the first 1000 m/s and 30 km but you have to carry them for the other 7000 m/s and 200 km (less if you have two stages, but still horribly inefficient).

Engine reusability can be had with recoverable missiles (see SpaceX).

The ground operations staff increases with reusability instead of decreasing since you have to inspect and repair your reusable spacecraft; this is what killed the shuttle economically. These engines operate so close to the edge of the envelope you have to trade efficiency for maintenance time, and you just can't afford to lose efficiency.

Suitable air breathing engines have been a decade away for at around 50 years now. No one knows if they're even possible beyond Mach 5.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (1)

QuantumG (50515) | about 4 years ago | (#31731196)

The ground operations staff increases with reusability instead of decreasing since you have to inspect and repair your reusable spacecraft; this is what killed the shuttle economically. These engines operate so close to the edge of the envelope you have to trade efficiency for maintenance time, and you just can't afford to lose efficiency.

Yeah, and you're proving my point. The Shuttle is not the pinnacle of reusable launch vehicle technology, it's 1970s technology, and NASA has absolutely no motivation to reduce costs.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (1)

rhsanborn (773855) | about 4 years ago | (#31732204)

There are air-breathing engine technologies that can go faster then mach 5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scramjet [wikipedia.org] . Unfortunately, with a scramjet the problem is getting the vehicle going fast enough for the jet to work (Almost that mach 5 you mentioned earlier).

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (1)

Cold hard reality (1536175) | about 4 years ago | (#31732454)

These are all research programs, far away from production. I agree those are the best bet for the future, but you can't start a launcher program based on those.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31729864)

tpstigers may not have known to whom he was replying.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (2, Interesting)

nedlohs (1335013) | about 4 years ago | (#31729872)

over one hundred? In 30 years?

The goal was one launch a week. Getting 8% of the target is a "damn good"???

They'd have done better with standard rocket launches, since the much promised lower per launch cost via amortization was a complete joke.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 4 years ago | (#31732272)

The goal was one launch a week. Getting 8% of the target is a "damn good"???

Of course, that goal didn't assume we'd stop building shuttles once we had five of the damn things. Which was the biggest failure of the Shuttle era. We should have built one or two every year for the last 30 years.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (1)

dammy (131759) | about 4 years ago | (#31730658)

First rule of thumb, if NASA can botch something, they will. SST was a disaster from what was promised (what was it, 30 day turn around @ vehicle? Weekly launches and I forget what the cost @ pound they were initially spouting, damn crooks), the years worth of delays and the lack of employment of those who were layed off after Apollo 17 (that would include my late father) mission. Challenger disaster that was needless, the botched search for the crew cabin (which was found within a square mile of where Patrick AFB told them to look in the first place, but NASA went else where first), the disgraceful recovery and transportation of the crew's remains once they did find the crew cabin. Then the Columbia disaster just underscored NASA management's lack of caring or understanding how delicate these old vehicles are even after Challenger's review.

I guess one should have expected this type of dismal failure when the US Government think it can run an space agency like a airline. Basically that would have been the fate of commercial air transportation if the US military would have had a strangle hold on it and not allowed the first airlines to form and fly cargo and passengers. I seldom agree with Obama on anything, but getting NASA out of the man space transportation loop is painful, but it needs to be done to allow people like Rutan to step up to the plate for a try. Next time your at the airport for a flight, try to imagine as a civilian having the choice of train, bus, or car if USAF wouldn't secure you a seat to fly on the only operational air transportation system, theirs. That's if they are going to the nearest military base where you need to go.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31729790)

The original Apollo, etc, missions are the heavy client. The shuttle program was the web. The question is if you get rid of the web, what next?

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (1)

khallow (566160) | about 4 years ago | (#31729926)

Given that analogy, the Shuttle was the next generation of heavy client.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31732318)

Better analogy.
Rockets were the original text only web.
The shuttle was the original Geocities. Large amounts of flashing images and over hyped.
With long loading times and no added benefit over the original text only web.
What we need is the current web with interactivity and fast loading times.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (1)

forkazoo (138186) | about 4 years ago | (#31729876)

I'm hard pressed to believe that the Space Shuttle is the best idea we've come up with in this industry. When I see people shedding tears over the canceled program, I see the same old heavy client programmers who couldn't adapt to web programming.

There certainly is some sort of analogy that can be made. The Shuttle is kind of like a hacked together old code base made out of Cobol and MUMPS that requires special mainframe hardware to stay running. In theory, we could replace the whole think while some Python or Java running on a single Linux box. We could even use the new box to run Apache and do all sorts of new web stuff. So, we have decided to throw away the old mainframe, and delete the old code base because it is so out of date and expensive.

Oh, and the requisition for the Linux box and a Java developer? Well, that's held up by the accounting department. We may or may not ever get it.

And, a car is involved somehow because this is an analogy.

The shuttle is an analogy for web programming... (1)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | about 4 years ago | (#31730074)

Wherein the end product is constrained by the size and functionality of the delivery system.

At least with the shuttle, though, there were no legions of mercenaries possessing ownership of each molecule of the air, adding fees for traversing that molecule, snooping to see what the payload is and altering, impeding, or blocking that payload based upon their opinion of that payload...and perhaps even imprisoning - or worse - the creators or receivers of that payload...

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (3, Interesting)

rickb928 (945187) | about 4 years ago | (#31730096)

"I see the same old heavy client programmers who couldn't adapt to web programming."

Where did you get the idea they were different? Different languages, maybe, different platforms, but not a differnet paradigm from what I'm seeing. The current epitome of web programming is some pretty heavyweight shit. Not counting Flash. Of course, I just see what passes for AJAX and massive doses of Java at work. If only it were different.

Now, NASA does need to reconsider the direction it takes. Somehow I think launching more ore less straight up is just too difficult. How about sending things up more like planes?

Oh, wait. that's being tried. Just not by NASA.

I hate this. NASA needs to stay in the game, but it's lost the edge. And the funding.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (1)

Cold hard reality (1536175) | about 4 years ago | (#31730742)

Planes fly around 300 m/s. To get to orbit you need 8000 m/s. Launching horizontally means you have to fight air resistance all of the way.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (1)

rickb928 (945187) | about 4 years ago | (#31732124)

It's fairly obvious, even before your comment, that we would need new types of planes. Even the independents know this.

Next, you're gonna tell me we should simplify things and just let a capsule slash down into the ocean? Avoids a lot of complicated stuff like 'flying' back and whells and such.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (1)

Cold hard reality (1536175) | about 4 years ago | (#31732498)

No one knows how to build those planes. Sure, you can use a B-52 to lift a rocket that will put a 200KG payload in LEO, but those things don't scale.

wrt recovery, wings or landing rockets are pretty, but also very heavy. If a parachute system is the lightest, then it's also the cheapest. Remember, an extra pound of landing gear expands to 20-40 extra pounds of launcher mass.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (2, Informative)

kronosopher (1531873) | about 4 years ago | (#31730352)

I see the same old heavy client programmers who couldn't adapt to web programming.

This is partially true due to the fact that over the past 15 years the functionality available through the web platform has increased greatly and is approaching the level of traditional client applications. It's close, just not quite there. That said, while the web platform is usually excellent there are some mitigating factors hindering it's growth like the slow adoption and vendor lock-in. Considering the enormous improvements to the web platform there still is a substantial need for client applications even though most business applications could be implemented without it.

Security is a huge issue, a lot of shops simply don't want their applications exposed remotely, therein increasing the potential for an outside attack.

Performance is another. Until internet bandwidth reaches a point where it can support concurrency with enormous datasets and practically no latency then client applications will proliferate unabated.

Additionally, there are vast swathes of the population without broadband, or internet at all. Even if the bandwidth capacity increased and performance isn't an issue(server-side), we still need to establish a lot more very expensive infrastructure to plug people in.

Finally, there is the plain old issue of control. Many people don't wish to be beholden to hosting brokers and their ISP's since both are prone to draconian government meddling(namely traffic shaping or the enforcement of archaic IP laws).

While I agree the web platform is growing exponentially and it is very likely that overall adoption will exceed native applications in the near future, native applications aren't going away anytime soon. Additionally, since the fundamental concepts between both platforms tend to be more similar than different, a lot of native environments will and do support the stateless web where possible. IMO, eliminating the need for RAM and native processing is currently insurmountable.

Re:Obama policies lead to higher unemployment! (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 4 years ago | (#31731448)

BAG (bad analogy guy) modded flamebait here? Why? That stupid shuttle was a crappy idea from the word go. It was a compromise of many things. A spaceship is not an airplane, and an airplane is not a spaceship. It's about what you would get if you tried to make a Cadillac pickup truck. A butt ugly piece of shit that doesn't do anything as well as some other alternative vehicle. http://www.automedia.com/NewCarBuyersGuide2007/photos/2007/Cadillac/SRX/SUV/2007_Cadillac_SRX_ext_1.jpg [automedia.com] Go ahead, look at it. It's every bit as ugly as the shuttle.

Has anyone ever done a poll of the shuttle pilots? Has anyone ever asked them if they would rather have driven a real spaceship, that actually went somewhere? Most pilots, most drivers, don't learn their skill so that they can drive on an established circular track a dozen times in their lives. Most of them learn their skills so that they can GO SOMEWHERE!!

Face it, we've not yet built a real spaceship. China will probably beat us to that. No, the space station doesn't count - that's just a freaking raft, tethered to the shore by a really short logistics chain.

A new era. (3, Interesting)

cosm (1072588) | about 4 years ago | (#31729660)

Space exploration today is not nearly important as securing votes. There once was a time when industrial might, military might, and technological advancement were yardsticks of a successful nation-state. Granted, much of those things arose from international pissing contests, and the government motivation was more geopolitical than anthropic during the early Apollo times, but there just isn't the political incentive to prop up NASA like there used to be. It is most definately a shame. Hopefully private sector takes over and makes great improvements for the longevity of our race, but I have a feeling it will be less for science and more for McLunar Nuggets.

Re:A new era. (1)

pydev (1683904) | about 4 years ago | (#31730098)

It is doubtful that manned space exploration has anything to do with "industrial might, military might, or technological advancement" anymore. If you want to advance technology and improve industrial and military might, then you should invest in robotics and artificial intelligence; that is, unmanned exploration.

waa waaa waa (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31729690)

God forbid these elite astronauts have to deal with loosing their jobs like the rest of us lowly folk. My heart bleeds. no, really.

Re:waa waaa waa (1)

cosm (1072588) | about 4 years ago | (#31729712)

Yes, actually. God forbid. Because in an economy where astronauts cannot keep their jobs, we have seriously fucked up.

Re:waa waaa waa (-1, Troll)

QuantumG (50515) | about 4 years ago | (#31729748)

hehe, government employees wail the most when they lose their jobs. The rest of us just say "oh well, I guess that's the economy" and go get another one. Job security, it's one of those things that was important in the 60s, like NASA.

Re:waa waaa waa (1)

Le Marteau (206396) | about 4 years ago | (#31730186)

Oh FFS. It's not like they are going to be flipping burgers, or in a homeless shelter any time soon.

Re:waa waaa waa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31730760)

You can't flip a burger in 0-g.

Re:waa waaa waa (1)

paiute (550198) | about 4 years ago | (#31732100)

You can't flip a burger in 0-g.

Sure you can. Just not in the traditional way. You could have two griddles parallel to one another and maybe 5-6 feet apart. Cook one side of the patty, flip it to the other cooking surface, spin yourself 180 degrees, finish cooking.

Seems obvious to me... (1)

crusty_architect (642208) | about 4 years ago | (#31729702)

Don't they all become NASA administrators?

Re:Seems obvious to me... (1)

e9th (652576) | about 4 years ago | (#31729770)

The ambitious ones become Senators, like John Glenn and Bill Nelson.

Re:Seems obvious to me... (1)

NormalVisual (565491) | about 4 years ago | (#31730900)

Bill Nelson was already a member of Congress when he flew his one and only Shuttle mission, albeit not as a senator at the time. He's a lawyer and politician that happened to finagle his way into a flight, as opposed to a real astronaut like Glenn that actually came up through the ranks and earned it.

Re:Seems obvious to me... (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 4 years ago | (#31730570)

Before Charles Bolden there was Richard Truly [wikipedia.org] and Frederick Gregory [wikipedia.org] (acting administrator for 62 days). So yeah, being an astronaut has at least helped a couple of people in getting the job. Also, more than a few have become deputy administrators and filled other key positions in NASA as well, certainly adding to leadership pool for the agency.

I expect the number of astronauts to go up (4, Interesting)

QuantumG (50515) | about 4 years ago | (#31729720)

and hopefully it won't just be government astronauts who get to go. Back when the shuttle was seen as a way to reduce the cost of getting into space, and NASA launched commercial satellites, a few ordinary engineers got to go to space. Of course, Challenger changed all that. And the Launch Services Purchase Act proved that the best way to reduce the cost of launch is to cut NASA out of the picture all together. So hopefully, when the job of taking humans to space has suitably placed NASA in an oversight only role, we'll see ordinary people flying to space again to do economically valuable work. Then the market takes over and everything changes.

That said, NASA will still be flying their own astronauts. If there's any sense left in them, they'll be flying to beyond low earth orbit.

Re:I expect the number of astronauts to go up (3, Informative)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | about 4 years ago | (#31729972)

If there's any sense left in them, they'll be flying to beyond low earth orbit.

The problem is a lack of mission, and a lack of budget, and they need to sell both to Congress and the general public.

People seem to think NASA has a huge budget, in some ways they do, but the budget doesn't really allow for manned space exploration beyond LEO. In real dollars, it's down a lot from the Apollo-era budget and that was just what was needed to cover a few jaunts to the moon. In order for NASA to do something beyond Apollo, they need to have a plan and a stable long-term budget to carry out the plan.

Re:I expect the number of astronauts to go up (3, Informative)

QuantumG (50515) | about 4 years ago | (#31730106)

When you're in low earth orbit you're half way to anywhere. NASA could do a beyond earth orbit mission right now if they'd just swallow their pride and plan it around using the Soyuz to take astronauts to their deep space vehicle on orbit that they launch there using existing boosters. Instead they've poured $9 billion down the money pit of Ares to develop yet more costly launch capability. But, for some reason, having international partners on the critical path of an international mission is just too ego shaking for NASA.. the next best thing is to pay 3 to 4 times as much as Soyuz for taxi services from US commercial suppliers (and that's assuming the Soyuz flights couldn't be gotten for free with suitable recognition of Russia as an international partner). In fact, it's starting to look like the commercial suppliers that NASA is trying to engage to provide them with flights on a cheap per-seat basis will actually be demanding large upfront development costs.. in the $billions range.. all of them except SpaceX, who are happy to develop crew carrying capability under the COTS-D option for about a third of that.

Re:I expect the number of astronauts to go up (2, Insightful)

icebrain (944107) | about 4 years ago | (#31732196)

But, for some reason, having international partners on the critical path of an international mission is just too ego shaking for NASA.

It's not an issue of ego, it's one of reliability. The US and Russia aren't exactly the best of friends; Russian aftermarket/product support is, well, less than notable; and the incorporation of Russia into the current ISS program was less a matter of needing them there than an effort to essentially bribe their rocket engineers and keep them busy on civil applications instead of military ones. I'd be extremely reluctant to put anyone outside of my own group on the critical path to one of my projects unless I absolutely had to. I wouldn't even consider a Russian company, frankly. Oh, and go ask the Indians how their Russian-built carrier is coming along.

Also, consider the wider economic picture. Do you want to send money outside your country to a potentially-unreliable partner and completely depend on them, or would you rather invest a little more in your own country and retain that technical knowledge yourself, helping out your own citizens and enabling yourself to build on that platform rather than giving it up to someone else?

Re:I expect the number of astronauts to go up (2, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | about 4 years ago | (#31730152)

In real dollars, it's down a lot from the Apollo-era budget

By more than I would've thought, too, although in retrospect I suppose it's obvious Apollo was really, really expensive.

Numbers: the peak Apollo-era budget was around $6 billion in 1966, which according to the government's CPI calculator, is about $40 billion in 2010 dollars. NASA's actual current-year budget is less than half that, a bit under $19 billion.

In terms of money that can be devoted to a particular program, it's an even bigger decrease. The vast majority of that $40b-equivalent in the late 1960s was being devoted to the single program of sending people to the moon. But today NASA has a ton of other things it has to spend money on, like operating the Hubble telescope and a whole [wikipedia.org] bunch [wikipedia.org] of scientific [wikipedia.org] satellites [wikipedia.org], which also come with increasingly absurd amounts of data to process, store, and make available.

Re:I expect the number of astronauts to go up (1)

igb (28052) | about 4 years ago | (#31731092)

Numbers: the peak Apollo-era budget was around $6 billion in 1966, which according to the government's CPI calculator, is about $40 billion in 2010 dollars. NASA's actual current-year budget is less than half that, a bit under $19 billion.

So that explains why NASA are now only launching one or two moon missions per year and only developing a complete new launch and crew system every ten years rather than every five? Yes?

Or, less sarcastically, the value being extracted with 50% of the budget isn't even 10% of the Apollo era.

Re:I expect the number of astronauts to go up (2, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | about 4 years ago | (#31731160)

They spend much more of their budget on unmanned missions these days, and I think have gotten much more of a scientific return on that than the Apollo program did. I'd say the value being extracted with 50% of the budget is at least 1000% of the Apollo era, which did relatively little science, and lots of photo ops and Cold-War posturing.

These days, NASA does things like operate a space telescope, send a rover to Mars, send a probe to Europa, operate dozens of scientific satellites, etc.

Re:I expect the number of astronauts to go up (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 4 years ago | (#31730640)

There still is a role for a professional and experienced astronaut, and the astronauts certainly do much more than flying spacecraft. Even if the whole program is mothballed and somehow NASA boycotts or is blocked from using the Soyuz spacecraft, the astronauts will still have things to do at NASA for awhile.

Still, I'd have to admit that the draw to becoming an astronaut is to get into space and doing stuff "up there".

I do know that several companies have been hiring astronauts explicitly for their services to work in orbit, including Orbital Science, Bigelow Aerospace (currently has about 2-3 positions on their website with a resume request for interested parties), and SpaceX. I expect that all of the astronauts hired by these companies will eventually get into space too at some point in the not too distant future. Heck, I'd dare say they'll make it to space before the current NASA group does on government contracts. Virgin Galactic is also going to be hiring in the not too distant future as well, and those will be full-time paid positions.

From what I've heard, there is even a mild dispute going on with SpaceX in terms of if it will be their pilots flying that vehicle or if it will be NASA astronauts controlling "the stick" on the Dragon vehicles going to the ISS. SpaceX is going to have non-government flight contracts where this will be a more significant detail. Several feelers are already being tendered but are waiting for the flight success of the Falcon 9 before anything firm is signed.

Re:I expect the number of astronauts to go up (1)

QuantumG (50515) | about 4 years ago | (#31730734)

The dispute that is going on at SpaceX amounts to "Hey NASA, what do you want?" and NASA saying "Hey SpaceX, what should we want?" etc. It's your typical government leaderless program.

It's like ex-fighter pilots (4, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | about 4 years ago | (#31729796)

It's like being an ex-fighter pilot. If you've worked in aerospace, you've probably met plenty of former fighter pilots. They're a fun crowd, and they do OK after giving up the cockpit.

Being an astronaut hasn't been glamorous for a long time. Those guys spend far more time doing "Lunch with an Astronaut" [kennedyspacecenter.com] than they do flying.

mod 30wn (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31729824)

*BSDc but FrreBSD

Private Sector jobs? (2, Funny)

WormholeFiend (674934) | about 4 years ago | (#31729948)

Virgin Galactic is going to need some space-stewardesses...

Re:Private Sector jobs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31732482)

In fact, that's a good idea for a job. Somebody tolerant of a spinning horizon needs to take care of the passengers in the case of a emergency.

Let's see... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31729958)

Astronauts are generally people in the top end of almost any qualification for a job, even leaving aside them being well, former astronauts, which is itself something in the way of notoriety. Enough to get the occasional free breakfast anyway.

They aren't going to be hurting. These people would probably do just fine if you dropped them naked on a tropical island.

You want people to worry about? I can think of a lot of others who need your help more. Like half the people going to public school.

Oh Really? (1)

RoboRay (735839) | about 4 years ago | (#31729976)

May? Astronaut careers may stall without any manned spacecraft for them to fly? How insightful.

In other news, the careers of professional football players may stall due to the NFL's decision to stop buying footballs.

Migrate to a country with a manned space program (2, Insightful)

dbIII (701233) | about 4 years ago | (#31730016)

"In German oder English I know how to count down. Und I'm learning Chinese," says Wernher von Braun.

Re:Migrate to a country with a manned space progra (1)

savuporo (658486) | about 4 years ago | (#31730302)

A country like the one where this manned space program [scaled.com] and a few [blueorigin.com] others [bigelowaerospace.com] are [armadilloaerospace.com] currently being built ?

Branson looking canny-typical private sector story (1)

fantomas (94850) | about 4 years ago | (#31732044)

Indeed Richard Branson is looking a bit canny right now, he might pick up a few pilots that need little to no training having already been trained by the tax payer. Typical private sector story, get the public sector/tax payers to provide your staff training and then pick up tip-top crew when the public sector has to offload in time of recession. Over here in the UK they say the biggest influence against the public sector being reduced is the parallel private sector, e.g. private hospitals rely on the public sector to pre-train their doctors and nurses, private security rely on the army and police to train their people on the ground. These private companies will privately scream at the government if huge cuts are proposed because they just don't invest in training themselves to the same degree as the public sector, they rely on the government/tax payers to train and employ their staff until they are good enough to head hunt.

So I think Virgin might indeed have timed this one very well - they have a sub-space ship ready to fly and will be looking to hire crew in the next twelve months. Not sure about the other companies though, your Blue Origin people for example. I can imagine if I was a NASA expert checking out prospective companies and I saw that one of the key pictures on the B.O. home page was of their bicycle rack, I might be a bit worried about what technology they have....

why not? (1)

pydev (1683904) | about 4 years ago | (#31730088)

When we talk about going to distant places like Mars, the moon, [or] an asteroid, we will not be able to take someone off the street, train them for a few weeks and expect them to go off and do the types of missions we will demand of them,' said Bolden."

You need people who are reasonably stable, intelligent, and healthy. They should also have some medical training for emergencies. SCUBA diving may also help. What additional, lengthy training is needed, and what's the cost/benefit tradeoff supposed to be?

a lot of careers have stalled these days (0)

salesbot (1524011) | about 4 years ago | (#31730498)

the only difference is that the astronauts' career is costing the taxpayers a god damned lot of money. let them join the ranks of folk who will never get to fly through space.

Astronauts have bright futures (1)

simoncpu was here (1601629) | about 4 years ago | (#31730596)

"I'm an astronaut" looks very good on the resume. I don't think that the lack of space shuttles would stall their careers.

A great opportunity (1)

digitaltraveller (167469) | about 4 years ago | (#31730598)

This is the right decision and it's overdue franky.
It's all been downhill since the amazing achievements of the 1960s.

The entire agency should be dismantled, and at that time the
U.S. government should:

1) Publish a list of X-prizes for space research achievements.
2) VC fund a number of companies designed to go after those X-Prizes.
3) Put a salary cap on startup employees. Weed out the dispassionate.

This has two effects:
It makes the cost of failure a linear and known quantity.
It incentives the people who will make it happen.

Career's? What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31730804)

Pop a message up on TV/Radio "We want someone to go to the moon, send resume here...." and they'd be sorted.
What is this about making a career out of being an astronaut that may or may not ever launch?
I know it hasn't come to this yet, but this is sounding like a rocket rider union coming up if people worry about careers.
Sure, we'll launch, but only if we can be sure the health and safety risk is 0, and if the seat won't be quite comfortable enough, or it might vibrate a bit more than you like, the unions will force you to redesign it. Oh, and remember, wheelchair accessable is a must.

Hockey player's career stalls with out skates... (1)

leftie (667677) | about 4 years ago | (#31731276)

...and truck driver's career hits skids without a truck

Comprised? (1)

Lusixhan (1491267) | about 4 years ago | (#31731722)

a classic rock band comprised solely of astronauts

It is either "composed solely of astronauts" or "comprising solely astronauts". "Comprised" means "composed of".

moId uP (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#31731812)

had become like AMERICA) 1s the during which I suRprise to the short of a miracle project somewhere are about 7000/5 we need to address

Not even close (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 4 years ago | (#31731932)

We have at least one company(spacex) coming on-line with a 7 person-to-leo vehicle. That will allow for not just a replacement for the shuttle (in terms of human), BUT, unlike the shuttle, it can remain in space for 2 years. That allows the ISS to be kicked up in size. In addition, it will also allow Bigelow's private space stations to come on-line.

USA In Decline (1)

rally2xs (1093023) | about 4 years ago | (#31731944)

There's no question about it. After 3 more shuttle missions, that's it. No more shuttles, no plans in place to go back, thanks to the genius in chief canceling the moon rocket.

Make no mistake, this is going to get steadily worse. We don't have money for most everything we need - health care, infrastructure maintenance, etc. We couldn't afford to build the interstate highway system any more.

This is the result of all our jobs going overseas, and especially the manufacturing jobs. GO to business school, they'll tell you that there are only 3 sources of wealth: agriculture, mining, and manufacturing. Manufacturing has largely been shipped out of the country, which has adversely impacted the mining industry too. Their good-paying jobs went elsewhere, too.

Until we get it back, we're going to continue to decline.

The thing that is really killing manufacturing is NOT the good wages it pays, NOT the union that ensures those wages for millions of workers, but instead it is the world's highest statutory income tax rate. The US Gov't's corporate income tax rate of 35% is sucking money out of our industries, and chasing their jobs overseas. State business taxes of about 4.5% puts the USA, overall, second only to Japan, which is a couple tenths of a percent higher than we are.

Kill the income tax, or die as a world leader. Its that simple. The best way to do it that I've seen is the Fair Tax (www.fairtax.org) but whatever we use, we absolutely, positively have to get rid of the income taxes, all of them (corporate, personal, social security, medicare, self employment, alternative minimum, gift, capital gains, etc.) or we're just going to keep sliding down toward 3rd world status. The flat tax, BTW, is just another income tax. Income taxes are toxic to our prosperity.

What they say is true (1)

FrozenFOXX (1048276) | about 4 years ago | (#31732440)

I suppose it's true, "not everyone gets to be an astronaut when they grow up." Or at least in the US anyway.
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