Out There

Cheat Sheet & New Skills
for Prospective Astronauts

It’s been a disheartening time to be an astronaut. What, with the Space Shuttle out of commission for good, the profession that defined the term ‘rocket scientist’ may be up for a rough patch ahead.
As of right now, if you’re scheduled to fly, your seat will be on that old, cranky, and slightly terrifying Russian Soyuz rocket. No other ship is quite ready to take you aloft.
And yet, you may still need to learn some new skills. As millions of people have already been doing in these past three or four years, you may as well brush off your resume.
After all, just last month NASA announced that it has some openings for astronauts, although it’s not clear to anyone why exactly it’s hiring, since there’s simply no U.S. rocket to fly or speak of.
Whether it’s for hitching a hike on another country’s rocket, or there’s something we don’t know about being developed, you may as well be prepared.
NASA has a series of specifications to be met by prospective candidates, but even if they qualify, it’s not guaranteed that anyone will be heading towards the International Space Station anytime soon.
Besides the usual requirements, the salary is nothing to write Mars about it. Then again, given the risks, we bet the family benefits package is a killing, er, considerable.
Everybody knows that since 1959, skills required to become a successful astronaut are really of the outstanding class. Did we mention you need to be a rocket scientist to apply?
No quite, but it won’t hurt if you are. At the same time, your physical conditioning has to be up to an Olympic medal, no less.
Oh, you also need to be one of those rarest of Americans, those who speak more than two languages, and be fluent in NFL coach jargon does not count.
Curiously, two pieces of recent news caught our attention, so in the interest of giving you an edge over the competition, we thought we should tell you about them.
One was a series of experiments conducted in 1968, where astronauts were enlisted to try to reproduce the movements a falling cat makes, to correct his body mid-air and land on his paws.
We haven’t heard anything about it since, but as the competition for such a prestigious position is expected to be intense, that would be a skill we’d highly recommend you’d take upon yourself at mastering.
As with most things surrounding a government agency such as NASA, there’s a great deal of secrecy as to the exact nature of such experiments.

Fortunately for you, we’ve found an old issue of LIFE magazine with some pictures and a bit of information that may help you along.
There’s even a name for you to look up, a certain Professor Thomas R. Kane, who appears on a photo, strategically covering some very elaborate and complicated-looking calculations, draw on a blackboard.
We’d suggest you study those graphs with utmost attention. Be warned, though, that this all having happened so long ago, it’s very likely that the good professor, and the cat, have both already passed away.
But surely there may be some record and more precise data that you can culled out of the Internet about it, before you try it at home.
The astronaut in the pics is not identified, and we’re not even sure whether he was indeed an astronaut, or some circus performer, working part-time for the sake of science. It’s been done in the past.
We’re sure you’ll use all this information to your advantage, and ever so casually, you may even mention it, perhaps on your fifth or sixth interview for the position.
The other mysterious astronaut-related piece we gathered from the news may surprise you, but not much: the ISS is getting a washing machine.
Now, who do you think will be doing the washing? That’s right, it’s not going to be some Korean laundromat keeper. Then again… Never mind.
Just imagine what other cost-cutting appliances may have been thought out along with it to equip the station with all the amenities of a 1950s midwest household.
After all, with all budget-slashing craze that’s going on in Washington these days, it’s just logical that someone came up with such a practical solution for those oh so dirty space undergarments.
NASA has commissioned just such a device and, thank goodness, it’s a washer-dryer combo.
But if you think no one will have to take care of separating the loads by color, washing the delicates apart and, specially, folding everything at the end, you have something else coming for you.
As of now, those sloppy space stinkos simply eject their dirty clothes out of the station, to disintegrate in the upper atmosphere (and warm the hearts of start-wishers everywhere back on earth).

For those nostalgic of the heroic age of space exploration, when no one would dare asking Neil Armstrong how was the toilet conditions at the Apolo 11, times definitely have changed.
Just think about the urine-and-sweat-to-drinkable-water recycler that was installed recently up there. As that sports hero from the space age times, Yogi Berra, once declared, the future just ain’t what it used to be.
Concerns about the well being of the crews are more crucial now than ever, as space traveling became astronomically expensive and is likely to take much longer than it used to.
So, yes, a lot of research is being directed at more prosaic everyday tasks, not just to the technological cutting edge of space exploration.
That, of course, is good news for the likes of you, who naturally, have no intention of enduring any more hardship than it may be necessary, in order to do your job.
Specially flying at unconceivable speeds in what is essentially an explosive, tiny tin contraption, away from home. Coming to think of it, why would you?
Well, because it’s there, we know. In any event, we hope we were of some use to you. We heard that they no longer mind if you have flat feet, got divorced once or twice, inhaled a few times, or had Lasik surgery. Good luck.

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