Chair Force Engineer

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Only in the Movies

With all of the bad press that's been following the astronaut corps lately, I guess it's a good thing that young children no longer admire astronatus like they used to. It seems like the only astronauts worthy of admiration these days are the ones created by Hollywood.

It doesn't help that NASA doesn't pick the most emotionally-balanced people to fly in space. After all, most astronauts are military pilots. In my experience, the military pilot stereotype has proven to be remarkably true: the majority of the ones I have met have proven to be cocky, hot-headed, self-absorbed Maverick-wannabes.

In hindsight, perhaps President Eisenhower was wrong to insist on exclusively choosing test pilots for Project Mercury, setting a dangerous precedent that would pose many challenges for the space program. The NASA public relations people have worked very hard over the years to promote their image of the astronaut as being everything Americans should aspire to. The veneer didn't really begin to peel off until Tom Wolfe wrote The Right Stuff in 1979.

Spaceflight will always dictate that we have a certain number of pilot-astronauts; NASA will have to be careful in ensuring that they get "Goose" instead of either "Maverick" or "Iceman." The agency should also try to do a better job in looking outside the military talent pool to find qualified civilians from the engineering, medical and science communities. The agency has too many "Mavericks" as it is; they need to do a better job finding more astronauts like Charles Farmer.