NASA’s astronaut candidate job opening closed a few months ago and they’re reporting over 18,000 applications, the largest number in the history of the space program. I was one of them. It was one of my childhood dreams to be an astronaut. I was always interested in space and I watched a lot of Star Trek. So of course I wanted to be in space and explore space. As I grew older and went to college, I realized I was more interested in the technology and science than just being in space. So if I couldn’t go to space, I’d build the things that took you to space. I ended up doing a Ph.D. in space propulsion and now I teach it in college. But that kid desire to be an astronaut never quite died.
I know now that an astronaut is much more a scientist than an explorer. They’re nothing like TV or movies would make astronauts seem. Most of their days are highly structured with tasks to do and experiments to run. There are dozens of experiments going on at once on board the ISS and the few astronauts have to take care of them all. And they aren’t experts in all of them, so there’s a lot of direction from the ground, following procedures, and reading manuals. So it’s a lot less glamorous that my young self imagined. But my older self is very interested in the science and technology side of space exploration. I guess as we get older we replace youthful fantasy with learned interest.
My chances of being picked over the other 18,000 applicants is very very slim. Nevertheless I asked my wife since if it does happen, things would change, and she’s not a fan of me possibly dying, though the odds are small. But she’s kind of amused by it and we agreed I can apply and we’d discuss it further if I by some chance get selected and past the initial rounds of screening. We’ll see if my childhood dreams come true.