Monday, September 24, 2007

NASA announces search for new astronauts

Thanks everyone for thinking of me, but you can stop forwarding me this now. I've decided not to go back to college to get a degree in math, engineering or science in order spiff up my application.

I think this is actually a weird gesture on NASA's part. (Not as weird, for the record, as sending the lightsaber into space). These astronaut candidates will begin duty in 2009. But doing what? Not going into space, I can assure you, unless they manage to beg a seat on a Soyuz capsule. The space shuttle will be no longer available, its last few remaining missions having long before been promised to astronauts with more seniority. The lunar transport will still be little more than a glint in an engineer's eye. As it is now, there are close to 100 astronauts cooling their heels in Texas hoping for a mission, many of whom have never flown and won't get to before the shuttle is retired.

But by making this announcement, NASA makes it seem as if there are lots of missions scheduled, so many that they need to hire more people to fly them. Perhaps they think this will create a sense of inevitability--because the astronauts are there, Congress will pay to build spacecraft to keep them busy. But this is not how it works, I don't think. I fear that instead this hiring binge will send out the message that NASA has all the money they need and a secure future, so we need not lobby our Congressional representatives on their behalf. I think they will come to regret this. Meanwhile, lots of young Americans are unknowingly applying to become NASA PR officers in blue flight suits, maybe never to see a real mission.

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