News: Astronaut candidates need STEM degree
Story by Raymond Gall
FORT KNOX, Ky. — The U.S. Army Human Resources Command hosted a community speaking engagement with NASA astronaut and Army Col. Robert S. “Shane” Kimbrough at the Patton Museum’s Abrams Auditorium, May 21, 2014.
“The purpose of this engagement event is to have an Army astronaut inform the community about NASA career field options, his flight experiences and the future in space operations,” said Maj. Everetta J. Davis, Functional Area 40 assignment officer, HRC Operations Support Division.
The event was open to the Fort Knox installation, according to Davis, who planned and coordinated all the event details to include a mobile exhibit Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Adventure Semi 7 also known as STEM from the Accessions Support Brigade that travels all over the continental United States.
Career field options:
Many Soldiers are not aware of the challenges and how competitive it is to become a part of the NASA Astronaut Program.
Kimbrough, who officially became an astronaut in 2004, advised, “While one may have aspirations of becoming an astronaut, don’t put all your apples into one bag. Some might find it very surprising, only 30 percent of all current astronauts are in the military. Out of an applicant pool of 7,000 candidates, only eight were selected during the last class. And, of those, only two were Army; thus, bringing the combined total for active duty Army astronauts to four. There are also seven retired Army officers in the astronaut program.”
“The optimal time to consider applying to NASA if interested is when when you are a junior captain to a mid-grade major,” Kimbrough said.
Prospective astronaut candidates always have a STEM degree. They must meet physical fitness, height and weight requirements to qualify for the career field option under U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, Alabama.
“There is a height limitation, due to the smaller Russian spacecraft that the astronauts currently fly on. Even if selected, don’t think you’re going to hop right into a spacecraft and go on missions. Once selected as an astronaut candidate, there is two years of extensive training. Upon graduation, then and only then are you given the title of astronaut. But several more years of training are ahead of you before you get the opportunity to fly in space,” Kimbrough told the audience.
Experiences in space:
Kimbrough flew as a mission specialist for the Nov. 14, 2008, Space Transportation System-126 mission aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour to the International Space Station. He painted a vivid picture of his first experience in outer space.
“The purpose of the mission was to deliver equipment and supplies to the International Space Station and to service and repair any problems. It also included an update in crew quarters to include a new kitchen, toilet and exercise equipment. The mission was unofficially called an Extreme Home Makeover for the ISS,” Kimbrough said.
The highlight of the mission was two spacewalks in a very impressive spacesuit.
“Think of it,” he said. “I’m in space where the temperature range goes from -200 degrees to 200 degrees. Yet here I am comfortable and able to work. To top it off, every 45 minutes or so, you get to see a sunrise or sunset as we orbit the earth. Perhaps, the only drawback while doing a spacewalk is there’s no food. The only thing you have is a little water,” Kimbrough, the 1989 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, said.
“The launch was another incredible experience. To feel the pressure from 7 million pounds of thrust and go to 17,500 miles per hour in eight and a half minutes … it was awesome and really, really cool! It was like being on the best roller coaster ride ever,” he proclaimed.
The future in space operations:
While the shuttle program ended in 2011, the United States is not out of the space flight business.
According to Kimbrough, “NASA is working on a new spacecraft, called Orion, which will take humans farther in the solar system than they have ever been. The first test flight of this vehicle is scheduled in December 2014. In parallel with NASA’s effort, commercial companies are competing to take astronauts to and from the ISS. This is an on-going initiative that will play a key role in the future of U.S. space operations.”
“We are exploring big ideas, such as sending a person to an asteroid, Mars or even the moon. We have never sent a human to another planet. However, that is the goal over the next several decades,” Kimbrough said.