Monday, September 29, 2008

10-15 out of 3,535

So according to Air & Space magazine, I am one of 3,535 people from which 10-15 will ultimately be chosen. Chosen for what, you ask?

Well, last September I got an email from a former boss which said "now's the time" with a link to a news article - an article about NASA accepting astronaut applications again. After confirming that he did, indeed think that I should apply, I got my references in order (it's really nice to be family friends with the software manager for Hubble repair missions and to have worked for one of the associate administrators of NASA who also just happens to be a former Shuttle pilot and commander (and who just got inducted into the astronaut hall of fame)!), found all of my medical records, updated my resume, sent in my school transcripts, and on Christmas Eve, submitted my complete application.

So why are you only hearing about this now? Well, the vacancy announcement didn't close until the end of June...and since the school transcripts had to be mailed in, they had to give ample time for everything to get to their office, so they didn't actually start considering anyone until the beginning of September. I figured that no one would want to hear "well, it's not even under consideration yet" for most of a year, so I held off. Plus, shortly after submitting my application, there were lots of vomit stories to tell, which were _much_ more exciting than "nope, not yet..."

Sometime in July or August, I got a post card from the Astronaut Selection office saying that they had my completed application and I'd be hearing from them in the future. Well, as they say, "the future is (potentially) now." They're currently going through the 3,535 applications and making their first cut. They'll cut out folks who don't qualify at all, and then cut it down more so that there are about 120 folks. These people will be called to come to Houston in groups of 20 in November, December, and January for interviews and medical tests.

So, assuming I make that first cut, they'll be getting a call from me asking if they would allow me to come in the first group since Baby's coming in December and will be here in January! Hopefully they'll be flexible!

After the interviews are completed, they'll make a second cut from the 120 down to about 40. These folks will be called back to Houston in February and March for more extensive medical screenings. If I make that second cut, they'll be getting another call from me asking that I be in the LAST group to give me more time to get back into shape after the baby comes! So many astronauts are running/fitness nuts. As much as I like to be "shapely," I'm far from a nut about running or biking (or whatever) miles and miles every day! Especially 2-3 months post-partum!

After those final screenings are finished, they'll make their final cut down to 10-15 people (depending on how many active astronauts are left at that point - they expect a good bit of attrition due to the expected retirement of the Shuttle fleet in 2010), about 1/3 of which will be minorities and/or women. Assuming I make _that_ cut, we'll find out in March or so and will be expected to report in Houston in August.

So, what are my chances? Well, 3535 applicants for (let's say) 15 spots...given that 1/3 of the chosen will be women and let's say that at most 50% of the applicants are women...all applicants being equal, I have a chance of approximately 5 in 1767 or about 1 in 353.

Honestly, those odds aren't quite as bad as I was expecting (this was the first time I'd actually done any calculations).

But all applicants _aren't_ equal. The average age for an astronaut is somewhere in their 40s. I'm in my early 30s. Many "mission specialist" astronauts (the non-pilot folks like me) tend to have multiple advanced degrees. I have one MS and no PhD. And most folks who become astronauts apply multiple times before being selected (there's even one guy who applied 15 times before being selected!!!!!). This is my first application.

But on the plus side, I believe that my work experience uniquely qualifies me for the expected work for astronauts of the 2009 class. The folks selected in this class of astronauts will not fly on the Shuttle (unless something _drastic_ happens with Russia and the Shuttle program has to be extended past 2010). They will go to the ISS and will fly on the CEV. Well, my experience as a risk analyst for both the ISS and the CEV means that I have a good amount of knowledge about those systems already (especially the life support systems since that was my area of expertise on both contracts, although I have a good general working knowledge of the other systems as well). On top of that, we used the astronaut training manuals and a lot of operational procedures and rules as our main sources of information. This gives me a leg up on the training aspect, but it also makes me more 'well-rounded' than many engineer types who are more focused on the technical aspects than the operational aspects of missions.

And all of that's not to mention my time at the research lab where I worked as an undergrad (a neutral buoyancy tank like they use for astronaut training) and getting to fly twice already on the "Vomit Comet" (another training tool). I even think that my time overseas was a bit like training - I was never allowed to be really alone (there was always a security guard and/or driver with me whenever I went anywhere), I was very limited in where I could go and what I could do (not to mention learning another language), and I was separated by vast distances from friends and family. I may not have been weightless or confined in really, really close quarters with anyone (although it sure seemed that way sometimes), but there were definitely aspects of my time there that were similar to what I'll (hopefully) experience someday on a space mission.

So will I get selected? In sha'allah (God willing).


Ginny said...

Exciting stuff! Hope you make it! :)

Grace @ Sandier Pastures said...

Inshaalah indeed! I'll be rooting for you!

Thanks for dropping by my blog earlier. I pray for a safe delivery and healthy baby too.