Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Space Cadets

Recently, NASA announced the selection of the 2009 Astronaut Candidate class. This is the 20th group selected since the first seven back in 1959, the first group selected since 2004, and at nine, one of the smallest groups ever. The composition of the group is ... interesting.

At a first glance, it looks like there are three pilots and six mission specialists in this group. There are three former test pilots, two flight surgeons, a biomedical scientist, a former ISS flight controller, and two people whose selection I find fascinating. One was a CIA intelligence analyst before being selected, the other was a special assistant to the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Really, why haven't we cross-trained an intel analyst as an astronaut before now? I'd never really thought about it before I saw this selection list, but the idea seems obvious now. Space operations are going to become more important in the future, not less; and we need for our leaders to get good, solid, reality-based advice on what's going on not only in the world but up above it. It'll be interesting to see if she hangs around long enough to get a flight assignment, and even more interesting to see if she goes back to the Agency afterwards.

Likewise, space operations are also becoming more and more important to the military. Cross-training a staff officer as an astronaut also makes good sense. There's a lot of unmanned space experience in the Pentagon already, but there's nothing like the perspective of a man who's been there.

It'll be interesting to see where this class ends up. They're going to be putting the Shuttle up on blocks by the time this group gets out of training, so it's an open question what they're going to ride on when the do get their first missions. But that's a story for another day.

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