Do you have the right stuff? Apply to be an astronaut

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I don’t know… It may be worth it for the ice cream, though.


I like how the central quality NASA appears to be looking for is, “Don’t be a dick.”


If you are planning for missions where people are sealed in close confinement for days on end, ensuring that they don’t antagonise one another is pretty damn important.


This seems like a ridiculously outdated qualification. Modern spacecraft don’t even have any manual controls to speak of. Certainly nothing with a joystick that is controlled anything like a high-performance jet.

I remember watching the live broadcast when the first SpaceX Dragon capsule to carry NASA astronauts flew. The in-cockpit camera feed was incredibly boring because the crew wasn’t doing a damn thing other than flipping through a couple of status pages on a touch screen, seemingly out of boredom. They’ve already sent up capsules to orbit with nobody other than rich amateurs onboard because the crew is not normally responsible for actually piloting the capsule at all.


Pretty sure most of those monkeys they sent up back in the early days of the space program weren’t instrument-certified either for that matter.

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This seems to me like a good way to select for persons who understand complex technologies and are capable of making informed, but very fast decisions in a high stress environment. Especially when that complex technology misbehaves. While making parameters like mission profile and crew safety key points in the decision making process. Doing this right now and alone if needs be, taking full responsibility for whatever the consequences may turn out to be. Not a lot of people have good situational awareness and can completely act upon it at the drop of a hat without re-reading the manual or assembling an advisory committee.
Touchscreens don’t really enter into this.


Being an astronaut has its downsides.


I’ve got the right stuff, right here, right now.

Informed, but very fast decisions? I don’t think that “very fast decisions” have been required of any astronaut post Apollo program. (I may be mistaken so please correct me if you know of any examples!) Personally I think that the realities of today’s spaceflight mean that a far more applicable qualification would be spending a lot of time on a submarine. Living for months at a time in a cramped metal tube where you need to get along with others, manage stress, and keep the machinery and life support systems working in order to stay alive is much more like life on the space station than flying a fighter jet is. If the astronaut core is going to be heavily weighted towards any military occupation, it should probably be submariners.

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This is about the only mission goal I could complete:


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Off the top of my head, STS-51F had to abort to orbit. There were other situations, IIRC when the flight computer judged the main engines were too hot due to faulty sensors and wanted to shut them down shortly after lift-off. You want someone in the driver’s seat who has a clue about what’s going on, which options there are, pick the right one, and be quick about it when things go wrong. Like when, say an automated docking system craps out.

That very fast decisions are something that is needed seldom is a testament to the reliability of the systems that are rated for putting humans in them, but none of them are 100% reliable.
It also takes a while to iron out the kinks. Testing, simulations and unscrewed flights will only go so far. At the end of the day there’ll be a couple of humans strapped to a very, very complex machine that uses the energy of a small nuke in a controlled and drawn-out detonation to go very, fast. Pulling over, looking under the hood and calling the tow truck isn’t an option.
And since the shuttle1) has been retired everything NASA flies is still pretty new. Some sort of failure nobody has thought of will happen; the question is when and how bad2) it will be.

(I think one of the guys on STS-39 was a Navy aviator who also was a submariner, so yeah, a prime candidate for being stuffed in a tiny can that moves fast.)

1) Worst safety record of any human-rated spacecraft ever.
2) For some reason, I don’t trust the “move fast and break” guys with not cutting corners here and there.


Fair enough, if I was forced to fly on a Space Shuttle I’d probably want a good pilot at the helm too. But I think we can agree that it was a pretty fundamentally flawed design. No abort system, among many other issues.

Pilot error and split-second decisions have been known to kill astronauts too. Back in 2014 one of the highly-experienced test pilots on VSS Enterprise flipped a switch at the wrong time and caused the whole thing to disintegrate.

Will you be an astronaut?

The shuttle had and hadn’t an abort system, depending on how you look at it.
It had abort1) modes2) (return and try to land, stay suborbital and try to reach one of the emergency landing sites3) - imagine missing and ending up behind the iron curtain, try to reach some sort of orbit - ideally one that wouldn’t overtax the OMS to get the shuttle into position for a more or less regular landing).

What the shuttle didn’t have is an escape system. Except for the first test flights with a crew of only two, who had ejector seats. Which had only a very, very narrow window of usefulness anyway. Odds are the shuttle would have been too fast already to survive this, or right after ejection they could have found themselves inside the exhaust plume. There are reasons why NASA ditched ejection seats after Gemini and went back to a tower rocket for Apollo.
Retrofitting the shuttle with some sort of escape pod (like, say the B-58 Hustler) was discussed, briefly, after Challenger and after Columbia, but never went anywhere. And why would it, you’d practically have to completely rebuild the remaining orbiters for that - a flawed and outdated design.


A somewhat idealised depiction of something that would have been one red hot mess. STS-51F’s ATO worked fine because nothing was wrong with the main engines or the SRBs as such and they had full thrust; it was a sensor failure.


It will be interesting to see how rating Starship for crewed flight will go. Starship doesn’t have an escape system either. The idea is that the flight computers will be able to detect anything going wrong with the booster and spool up Starship’s own engines fast enough to hot stage and get away. Which seems ambitious, to say the least.
Granted, the Crew Dragon capsule does something similar - but at a much smaller scale and using pressure fed hypergolic propellant. Getting a couple of pump fed cryogenic “methalox” motors up and running is something else. What happens to the crew or passengers when this doesn’t work is anybody’s guess.


Yes, I should have been more specific. What I meant was that between the time that the SRBs were ignited and their separation about 2 minutes later, there was absolutely no abort or launch escape system available. Considering that that segment of the launch included Max Q, and that the crew was in a vehicle stuck to the side of a ginormous fuel tank, that was a huge flaw in the design.

Yeah, that’s a big problem. I wouldn’t expect Starship to receive a crew rating (at least for the part where it launches to orbit) from NASA until it has established some kind of substantial track record of lots of successful launches. Or at least I certainly hope that NASA requires that.

The shuttle had 24 successful launches before the Challenger disaster. So what would it take, something like 50 successful launches to prove that Starship was at least as safe as the Shuttle? (A very low bar, to be sure.)

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Well, at least Starship sits on top of the booster, that’s inherently safer. I hear the tiles that form the heat shield still have a tendency to fall off, though.

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