The Astronauts, the only people who have had the w
onderful chance to step outside this atmosphere. Astronauts conduct experiments and gather information for anything from finding out how other living creatures survive in space to seeing how the human body can handle zero-g conditions. Astronauts must undergo training in order to perform one of the most dangerous jobs due to the fact that in space there is no 911.
Robert H. Goddard and Hermann Oberth are recognized as the fathers of space flight. Goddard built and tested rocket fuel and motors. Oberth published a book, The Rocket into Interplanetary Space in 1932, which discussed problems in space and he also described how a spaceship would look. Not until 1940, due to World War II, space flights were almost reality. At that time, the United States conducted many experiments concerning space travel. They studied weightlessness and predicted complications due to long term exposure. Other experiments included the amount of oxygen needed, types of food, clothing, and temperature controls needed (Crossgrove, 165).
In 1961, the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, was sent up by the Soviet Union. In response the United States launched an independent government agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA, to develop a space program (Crossgrove, 165). Then the war was on between the Soviet Union and the United States to send the first crew to the moon. NASA won the war when Neil Armstrong, in 1969, became the first man on the moon.
The nature of this job changes due to the advances in technology and needs that the government may have. Most space flights are used to do experiments but some are used to launch satellites while others repair them. Some of the most current experiments include the testing of new engineering techniques that may be used in an upcoming permanent space station for the United States that will be used to manufacture such things as ball bearings which are easier to manufacture in space and as a refueling station for other ships.
The basic shuttle crew is made up of at least five people: the commander, the pilot, and three mission specialists and sometimes a payload specialist. Mission specialists are exactly what they say, special personnel to tailor to that mission’s requirements. The mission specialists may range from engineers, technicians, physicians, astronomers, meteorologists, or biologists. The commander is in charge of the mission, fling the orbiter, supervising the crew, the operation of the spacecraft and is responsible for the safety and success of the mission. Pilots fly the space craft and fly or maneuver any other object they may need. The payload specialists may not be actual NASA astronauts but are skilled in the usage of the cargo on board.
There are many requirements that you have to pass extraordinarily to become an astronaut. First candidates must be jet pilots with a lot of flying hours and experience. Because of this requirement it is rare that an astronaut comes from somewhere other than the military. Each astronaut must pass grueling physical tests one being to withstand many times their body weight in a special machine. One other requirement is that you many not be taller than six feet tall due to the available space in a space craft. The requirements for mission specialists are less than the requirements for a full astronaut.
Astronaut candidates undergo a year-long testing period. During this period they are tested for how well they preform in zero gravity conditions which is simulated by a large pool and special weights, how they preform in laboratory conditions, and as a member of a team with the other astronauts. After they pass this testing period, the training period at Johnson space center in Houston, Texas, begins.
The training period consists of many hours of classroom learning and hands on experience. In the classroom, the astronauts learn astronomy, astrophysics, meteorology, star navigation, communications, computer theory, rocket engines and fuels, orbital medicine, heat transfer, and space medicine. Outside the classroom, they train in the use of the space craft and the application of classroom knowledge in the field.
Astronauts need to be able to work with machinery that is supplied for the mission intricately. They go to factories as part of their training period to learn the ins and outs of each piece of machinery. They must be able to control, maneuver, and fix the machinery.
Astronauts must also tolerate extreme changes in the physical and psychological requirements of the mission. They must also be able to tolerate extreme air pressure and extreme cold and/or heat. An astronaut’s working conditions are very unpredictable so all on board the shuttle must be able to respond to sudden changes in their environment and be able to do something about it.
Those who are accepted into the program after training are not guaranteed space flight. Some astronauts get their first mission soon after they come out of training. Other astronauts may take a few years to get their first mission. Still, there are other astronauts that never get to go on a mission into outer space.
Only a very small number of people will ever become astronauts. Only twenty-five people are selected to be astronaut candidates and even fewer are accepted as full-fledged astronauts. As of 1998 there were only one hundred and eighty-nine astronauts on active duty. Unless a large space station is built soon, the number of astronauts on active duty will most likely not change.
Astronauts that are members of the armed forces earn about $46,200 to $90,250 a year, which is armed forces pay. Foreigners, mission specialists, or other civilians earn about $42,000 to $90,250 a year. In addition astronauts get the usual benefits, including vacations, sick leave, health insurance, retirement pensions, and bonuses for superior performance.
Some people think that eventually there will be no need for human astronauts. They think that eventually safer and longer missions will be performed by machines launched into space to travel to the outer limits of space and explore distant planets. This philosophy was proved even truer when the Mars Pathfinder mission was launcher to send back pictures of the Martian landscape. But who knows when this hypothesis will become reality?