Thursday, November 17, 2011

Whate'er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part

My dad called me the other day to tell me that the Astronaut Program at NASA is hiring.  They don't require PhD's any more, just a Bachelor's plus three years experience.  I just have a Bachelor's and 5 years in a PhD program.  1 PhD degree = 3 years experience.  So, it looks like either way, I'd need that ever elusive degree.

When I was younger, I often wondered if I could be an astronaut.  I love space.  I mean, I really LOVE space.  It's one of those un-explainable love affairs I have.  I can't get it out of my system.  Exhibit A: I cry every time I listen to the transmission of the Moon Landing.  Exhibit B: My favorite Smithsonian Museum is the Air and Space Museum.  Exhibit C:  This line from October Sky never fails to elicit a huge smile from me: "What do you want to know about rockets?"  "Everything."  Exhibit D: I am studying reaction control system jets on the mars entry vehicles for my PhD.  I could go on all day.  I'll stop there; Exhibit D is probably proof enough.  

When I got my dad's call, I immediately started looking for the application materials.  I haven't ever really wanted to be an astronaut before - I long ago decided that facing eternity through the expanse of space might terrify me.  I also wondered how I would manage knowing that everyone and everything that I loved was far away on the tiny little orb that is Earth.  

However, suddenly, I'm contemplating being an astronaut as though it's a real option.  In many ways, it's not ideal.  Astronauts under rigorous training that is meant to test their emotional, physical and mental limits.  The hours preparing for and on a mission mean for long periods of time, you are largely absent from family and loved ones.  It's a high-risk job.  During the Challenger investigations, famed physicist Richard Feynman likened launches as Russian roulette.  Especially with budget cuts in NASA, and the era of "faster, cheaper, better" which defies logic and requires NASA to rely heavily on out-dated technologies to complete current Mars missions, the safety of space travel is still a concern.  (This is not meant as a negative reflection on NASA - the people that I have met at NASA impress me time and time again with their intelligence and their warm-heartedness and humor.  These are people who are working here not because of impressive paychecks - it is only government pay after all - but because they truly love space as much or more than I do.)  All of this is not even including the rigors of a space mission itself which requires technical know-how to fly the vehicle, perform maintenance, perform scientific experiments while eating space food and having your muscles atrophy in the low-gravity conditions. 

Could/Should this be me?

Despite all of these negatives, it's a temptation.  Do I dare?  Do I try for it?  

Applications are due by January 27, 2012 and transcripts aren't required until July 2012 (which gives me until then to get that pesky PhD).

Now if only I could push that thought out of my head long enough to focus on the task at hand: proposal writing.  


  1. It doesn't hurt to try! I say yes you should try, since it is up to me and all. ;)