mike killian

So you want to be an Astronaut: America’s New Space Age

I took this panorama of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center last month. On the horizon across the water you can see several launch facilities. If you went there now, you might notice something new’s been added to the landscape:

(Image credit: Mike Killian)

This seeming mess is about to become America’s new crew access tower. This is a building designed to be the means of entry into a crewed spaceship. 

NASA hasn’t used one since the space shuttle program was cancelled. This specifically will be for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.

In 2017 NASA may have up to two functioning spaceships again ~ that’s two different types of manned spaceships:

- Boeing’s Starliner which is designed to carry up to seven astronauts to orbit at a time

- SpaceX’s Dragon V2 which also can carry seven astronauts.

Soon after this NASA’s own Orion spacecraft will start launching in preparation for manned Mars missions (most likely to occur in the 2030′s).

Unrelated to NASA, American citizen’s will soon gain access to three other privately created spaceships:

- Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

- XCOR’s Lynx spacecraft

- Blue Origin’s New Shepard

Let me paint a final picture now:

Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin just started a space institute in Florida with the sole purpose to research and develop methods to colonize Mars. They’re now offering business degrees for the “Commercial Enterprise of Space” (the mathematics level for this degree is only at the algebra level).

On that note, startup Planetary Resources has started sending spacecraft to space to prepare for a prospecting mission to mine asteroids. Estimates project that asteroid mining could be so profitable that the world’s first trillionaire may come from this sort of private space enterprise.

Given that rocket technology (thanks largely to SpaceX) is likely to become mostly reusable, the price to get to space stands to drop considerably. There will be a large expansion of commercial enterprise into space in the next decade.

What’s the point?

The dream job for many people, to be an astronaut, is probably about to become much more possible to accomplish. Already several companies have hired experienced pilots (often former NASA astronauts) to fly their spacecraft.

There aren’t many more NASA pilots to hire though and the new space age has hardly begun. 

If you’re a millennial you happen to exist at a time where, with the right education (STEM), you may have a better chance of becoming an astronaut than any other generation. Never has any country had six different types of spacecraft at its disposal - and until now it’s never been financially feasible to start a space-based business.

That’s changing fast and with it: you’ll see this in the “Employment”/“Careers” section of company webpages:

(Image credit: Screenshot of XCOR Aerospace’s career webpage)