WASHINGTON – Hopeful future astronauts may end up having careers similar to those of today’s commercial airline pilots.
With all of NASA’s recent unmanned launches,kids are looking to new space events for inspiration.
“What inspired me was the Apollo program … now we have a whole new generation of young people saying SpaceShipOne,” Steve Isakowitz,president of Virgin Galactic,said.
SpaceShipOne is the vessel Virgin Galactic launched in June 2004 for the first private corporation space flight. In May the company successfully tested SpaceShipTwo in a trial run of what it will be doing when it carries six passengers to space next year.
If these flights go well,there could soon be an industry for commercial space flight pilots,giving kids a new career option for getting into space.
Pilots of these flights may face less competition and more lax standards than at NASA. The federal space agency’s standards include having a bachelor’s degree,at least 1,000 pilot hours and passing a NASA space physical (which requires a height between 5-feet-2-inches and 6-feet-3-inches).
The pilots of SpaceShipOne came from a variety of aerospace backgrounds. One was a test pilot,another was a Navy pilot and the others were engineers.
Access to space being controlled solely by a government entity like NASA is no longer realistic.
“We now have a space community that is not led from the top. It is lead from the bottom,” Alex Saltman,of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation,said.
As more and more unmanned crafts head into space,the interest in aeronautics is also going up.
“I was at MIT and they had talked about their aeroastro department. They were saying two years ago they had seen a pretty significant dip in students that were choosing to major in that particular department,” Isakowitz said. “Since that time it’s gone up like 75 percent,I think.”
The aeroastro department at MIT prepares engineering students to work on systems to launch and work in space.
If the interest is to go to Mars,not just the upper atmosphere,that is still an option said James Garvin,chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. It just might take a few years and a few more unmanned missions.
“I’d tell the kids of today that this is the homework – I know you don’t like your homework – we do to get ready so you can go,” he said. “These are the building blocks giving us the confidence to send women and men to Mars.”
With unmanned spacecraft,there are many opportunities to explore space,even if future explorers don’t get to go. Much of the work is done on the ground using data from unmanned spacecrafts.
As Ishmael Everette,7,of Washington,pointed out,the desire to explore is still alive in the next generation.
“I want to be an astronaut so I can explore things in space and really get to start to know,” the second-grader at Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School,said. “Because I don’t know that much about space.”
Reach reporter Nick Prete at [email protected] or 202-326-9861. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.