Who Wants To Be An Astronaut?

Did anyone here used to want to be an astronaut when they grew up?  I don’t remember ever wanting to be an astronaut as a kid.  I think it seemed like a job that regular people don’t ever have, so I’m not sure I ever even thought of it as a real possibility.

NASA announced a new call for astronaut applicants at the end of 2015, and I didn’t seriously consider applying.  I have the degrees and work experience that I would certainly meet the minimum qualifications.  Not saying I would be highly ranked among those who have the required background, and I don’t hold any illusions that I would have been one of the few selected, but I don’t think I’d be the first one removed from the list, either.  Since I teach astronomy, my students often ask me if I would ever try to become an astronaut.  If I had to option to go to space tomorrow, I would sign up immediately.  But, the actual day-to-day work of an astronaut, the years of training, that is not a job I actually want to do.  I love teaching, and don’t really want to become an engineer.

My outlook on the possibility of being an astronaut has changed a great deal since I was a kid.  It is of course still a difficult job to get, but it’s now so much more attainable to me than it seemed as a kid.  I know a few people who have applied in previous years and who also applied this time, some from the civilian side and some as active duty military.  My wife considered applying to this most recent call for applications, and even started working on it, but never actually submitted it.  (Turns out it probably wouldn’t have mattered either way; 18,300 people applied for 14 or fewer positions, so being selected is certainly a long shot.)

For my wife, being an astronaut was something doable, something that could really happen.  She grew up with an astronaut in her family, and lived in the same neighborhood as a bunch of other astronaut families.  Current Administrator of NASA Charlie Bolden’s kids used to babysit her.  For her growing up, being an astronaut was a job real people have, not just something she saw on TV or read about in books.

My youngest son is almost 3, and he’s started saying he wants to go to the moon.  He has spent the last four months saying he wants to be a construction worker when he grows up, but now he’s shifted to saying he wants to be an astronaut construction worker who builds things on the moon.  For my kids, being an astronaut when they grow up seems like more of a possibility than it ever was for me.  For them, it can be “I want to be an astronaut like ______ was.”

I hope that big, long-shot jobs like becoming an astronaut remain a possibility in their minds.  I’m of course not the first parent to hope their kids will see the whole world as a possibility, I just hope I can help them keep feeling like they can do anything.

32 thoughts on “Who Wants To Be An Astronaut?”

  1. My parents were good friends (probably still are) with a man who was one of the finalists for the Teacher in Space position that Christa McAuliffe won.
    Somehow, after the Challenger explosion, I briefly had a strong desire to be an astronaut myself. But not as strong as the Nanba brothers, and it quickly faded.

  2. I never wanted to be an astronaut due to the fact a hot air balloon scared the crap out of me. But now that I've tried skydiving and loved it, I would definitely take up an offer to go into space just once. But not while my child is young. Once he's grown and doesn't need me anymore. Then I'd risk it. The word "awesome" is overused, but seeing Earth from space would be awesome.

      1. It very likely will. The question is affordability. Musk quoted $200,000 for his one-way Mars trip. Going only as far as the Kármán line will involve fewer zeros but I'm dubious about it being below four zeros.

        1. Right, by "commercial" I meant something commercially viable, like airline travel for the obvious example.

          Heh, this randomly makes me think that one of the things I love about the way Futurama started is how excited Fry is about going to the moon, but how pedestrian it is to everyone else. Perfectly illustrated by the takeoff countdown.

          1. Huh, what I remember from how Futurama started is the Suicide Booth.
            Bender has a trick quarter. Maybe robot suicide's not so permanent?

    1. That perspective of seeing the Earth from that far away is a big reason I would even want to go up at all, second to getting to play around in a microgravity environment. That feeling of floating along with everything around you is the thing my former-astronaut-relative-in-law misses the most and would be willing to go up again to experience one more time.

      1. I think I'm more interested in extended* time in microgravity than the view, but it's pretty damn close.

        * not to say I wouldn't currently hop onto a vomit comet given the opportunity.

    1. Thanks! I originally was thinking of doing something more like current events in astronomy or something like that, but like most things in my life, the kids took over.

  3. This is a cool post. Thanks.

    It probably seems kind of odd, but my chief resistance to space travel is my extreme claustrophobia.

  4. Moss here...haven't been here in quite awhile, hopefully still welcome in these parts!

    Lil' Moss and Moss got to meet one of the seven living people who have walked on the moon, just a couple months ago. It was a neat experience to hear the first-hand stories. Not sure Moss would want to have any part of that though! (Plus, Moss is too tall...)


      1. Very cool.

        I've had occasion to meet a couple of them briefly, and talk with Buzz for a bit. Just being in the same room with them was an awe inspiring experience, even just based on historical significance along.

        Then they (and their wives) started telling stories. That was something else.

    1. "Moss in a tin can" sound like some kind of weird snack. Good to see you around these parts, man.

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