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Astronaut Careers May Stall Without the Shuttle 142

Posted by kdawson
from the buddy-can-you-spare-a-rocket dept.
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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Astronaut Careers May Stall Without the Shuttle

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  • by HalifaxRage (640242) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @11:01PM (#31729600) Journal
    I thought most/all US astronauts were experienced Air Force/Navy pilots? Don't they already have jobs?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Iceykitsune (1059892)
      yes, going into space, hence the article.
      • by WED Fan (911325) <akahige&trashmail,net> on Monday April 05, 2010 @01:59AM (#31730660) Homepage Journal

        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: (Score:1, Offtopic)

          by Runaway1956 (1322357)

          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,

        • 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

    • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdotNO@SPAMhackish.org> on Sunday April 04, 2010 @11:17PM (#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.

    • by Pinckney (1098477) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @11:32PM (#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.

      • 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: (Score:1, Flamebait)

          by ArsonSmith (13997)

          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.

          • by linzeal (197905)
            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.
      • by Bakkster (1529253)

        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.

        I'm not too worried about the astronauts finding new jobs. I'm worried about NASA losing highly skilled specialists, in whom they have invested significant money through unique training. It's time consuming and expensive to replace an astronaut, so we had better try to hold onto them and keep them active if we want to maintain whatever edge we still have in manned space flight.

        • by hairyfeet (841228)

          Seriously though we need Astronauts...uuuuhhh....why exactly? Until we develop better ways of making the journey sending meatsacks is just pretty damned wasteful and IMHO dumb. You can get MUCH more science done, including things like long term observations which would frankly be impossible to do with humans at our technology level, for much much cheaper with robots.

          So I say let the private companies do the "meatsacks in space" bit, and if countries like China want to stick somebody up for national pride, h

          • by Bakkster (1529253)

            Until we develop better ways of making the journey sending meatsacks is just pretty damned wasteful and IMHO dumb. ... Let the unmanned remotes and robots do the hard and dangerous stuff and keep the meatsacks on the ground working on better propulsion systems so we can actually get somewhere in our lifetimes. Sending humans into space at this point is just a monumental waste of resources ATM.

            Putting humans in space now gives us the expertise for later, when we do have those improved propulsion systems. Humans are also more versitile and flexible than a special-purpose robot when mission parameters or experiments change. Not every mission needs humans, but many do.

            And as for rent-an-astronaut, they will need to be trained by a private corporation (who has to build their facilities and training programs from scratch), and once we use them a few times it will end up more expensive than having N

  • A new era. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cosm (1072588) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .3msoceht.> on Sunday April 04, 2010 @11:07PM (#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.
    • by pydev (1683904)

      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.

  • by ewe2 (47163) <ewetoo@noSpAM.gmail.com> on Sunday April 04, 2010 @11:09PM (#31729686) Homepage Journal
    There has already been a Max Q [michaelhutchenceinfo.com]
  • Don't they all become NASA administrators?
    • by e9th (652576)
      The ambitious ones become Senators, like John Glenn and Bill Nelson.
      • 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.
    • by Teancum (67324)

      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.

  • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Sunday April 04, 2010 @11:14PM (#31729720) Homepage Journal

    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.

    • by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @11:57PM (#31729972) Homepage Journal

      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.

      • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Monday April 05, 2010 @12:18AM (#31730106) Homepage Journal

        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: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by icebrain (944107)

          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 unles

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by WindBourne (631190)
          It is a mistake to depend on Russia for this. Right now, we depend on Russia for access to the ISS, and they are now charging 2x what they charge private space. In addition, they are saying that in 2 years, they will double or even triple that price. So, we will pay PER SEAT what it costs to launch 7 SEATS with spaceX.

          More importantly, if we are going to go to the moon and set up a base, WE NEED multiple architectures. Not just for lift, but for transportation to the moon. Ideally, we will have different
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by QuantumG (50515) *

            That's because the US treats Russia like a "little brother" and doesn't ask them to seriously contribute in any way that matters. Russia responds by saying "this isn't a partnership, you pay."

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Trepidity (597)

        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. T

        • by igb (28052)

          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 eve

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Trepidity (597)

            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.

    • by Teancum (67324)

      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 service

      • by QuantumG (50515) *

        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.

    • Actually, the shuttle was NEVER seen as a way to lower the costs. It was sold that way. Most inside of NASA KNEW that it was not a lower cost way to launch thing. Hell, everytime you launch, 3/4 of the weight going to orbit is the shuttle. Normally, when launching a regular rocket, the protective containers represent about 1/10 or even 1/20 of the weight. Instead, it was designed to return large packages. Large Spy sats. Sats that we did not own. Ever wonder why USSR built a ground based laser? It was a t
  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @11:29PM (#31729796) Homepage

    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.

  • ... a manned flight program.

    ya think?

  • Just do what many do and become Hollywood advisors for space movies.
  • by WormholeFiend (674934) on Sunday April 04, 2010 @11:54PM (#31729948)

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

  • Without a human-capable spacecraft, astronauts won't get into space.
    Now there's a shocker...
  • 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.

  • with a man cave [slashdot.org] simulator.
  • by dbIII (701233) on Monday April 05, 2010 @12:05AM (#31730016)
    "In German oder English I know how to count down. Und I'm learning Chinese," says Wernher von Braun.
    • by savuporo (658486)
      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 ?
      • 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 publi

      • by cdrguru (88047)

        A launch vehicle without a license to launch is pretty much like tits on a bull.

        Sorry, there are no launch licenses being given out. You need clearance from both FAA and EPA. Without that, there will be an army of government agents making sure nothing gets launched.

        Nobody is going anywhere unless the license problem get solved, and there are no solutions on the horizon.

        • by savuporo (658486)
          You are behind. FAA handed out first licenses to these companies quite long time ago. Also, did you not notice that Bigelow has two prototypes circling the earth right now ?
    • *golf clap* Well played. Always good to see a Lehrer reference here.

  • by feepness (543479) on Monday April 05, 2010 @12:06AM (#31730036) Homepage
    ...for adult diapers.
  • The SGC will take,.kihi. opps I said to much

  • 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?

  • User Error: Fixed by pressing play again to unpause.

  • Astronauts play stars in NASA mission 'movie' posters [cnet.com]: For every space shuttle mission since STS-96 in 1999, which was the first time a U.S. shuttle docked with the International Space Station, the Kennedy Space Center's graphics department has been creating some pretty cool (and kitschy) mission posters.

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

    • by cdrguru (88047)

      Sure, but unless the FAA and EPA release their hold on licensing of launches, nobody is going anywhere. Right now, NASA and the Air Force have been allowed to launch. Rutan's company managed to get White Knight off the ground because it is an airplane and was apparently licensed as an airplane, not a space launch vehicle.

      As far as I know, nobody else has ever been given a license to launch from the US. There have been some test engine firings, mostly tethered, but nothing that would count as a launch.

      No

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

  • a classic rock band comprised solely of astronauts

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

  • Time to switch into cushy government jobs in the healthcare business

  • 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.
  • 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, t

    • You forgot repeal the 40 hour work week, the child labor laws, minimum wage, and the elimination of OSHA and the EPA. Because obviously the only way to manufacture anything is under working conditions slightly worse than Malaysia or northern Africa.

      Stupid asshole.

      • He didn't forget it. The guy more or less said exactly what you're saying when he said that U.S. manufacturing wasn't being killed off by high wages and unions. Believe it or not, it's possible to recognize what a problem taxes are for a healthy economy without advocating that all the proletariat toil for 23 hours a day in the slave pits of the bourgeoisie.

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

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth. -- Niels Bohr

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