After reminiscing about the good old days when outreach books were actually written by scientists and actually had some science in them, I ran across an article [Link] entitled “Here’s Everyone NASA Felt Was Better Than You” and this took be back again.
I grew up in Huntspatch, Alibam, catchily catch-phrased as the “Space Capital of the Universe,” which indicates the arrogance of elected officials, if nothing else. You would think that a child growing up in Huntspatch in the days of Mercury, and Gemini, and Apollo space programs would want to become as astronaut when he/she aged.
I never wanted to be an astronaut. And I didn’t know anyone who did until started graduate school in another state (much less city.) And that person was a woman studying engineering who wanted to be the first astronaut.
I suspect the “first” was more important the “astronaut”. She was a nice enough person but suffered a drive and determination that would have left her with no social life even if she had sought such. I don’t mind her ambition but then, it wasn’t mine.
I never really wanted to be anything but a scientist. I toyed with some other things along the way but quickly found I wasn’t good at them and I was rational enough to know not to go any farther. Happily I could – poorly – do science and that was enough.
I mention this because NASA talks about doing science. They do, but it’s either secondary or tertiary. If they had to get their science money from the agency that funds science in Amerika they would be right after Slippery Rock Teachers College on the priority list.
What they do is mostly rockets. Back when they were NACA they did airplanes. Becoming NASA was a bit of a rescue from being irrelevant.
And what astronauts do is basically technician work. Their flights are planned and controlled from the ground. The “experiments” they do are planned by real scientists and real engineers set up the instruments in a one-button box. And the data gets automatically recorded or transmitted back.
They used to be test pilots (look at the original seven) but those folks like to actually do things and so you won’t find many test pilots being astronauts any more.
What you do find is people like public school teachers, which tells you something about their work conditions.
There used to be a lot of geeks in NASA but only a few nerds. Now it’s mostly bogs and the geeks all stay on the ground.