Friday, June 25, 2010

Would-be astronauts eye future

Young dreamers still arrive at Purdue University's "cradle of astronauts" with hopes of following in the footsteps of Neil Armstrong, Gus Grissom and David Wolf.

Inspired by 30 years of breath-taking space shuttle launches and astronauts walking in space, students have been driven to join Purdue's elite group of 22 astronauts and thousands of lesser-known engineers who have played vital roles in shuttle missions.

But those dreams could be dashed, or delayed, by the government's decision to permanently retire the shuttle program and leave the future of American space travel in limbo for what some fear could be years.

"There is no replacement for the space shuttle, and the people that worked on that program are going to have no place to go," said Dan Kolenz, a senior in Purdue's aeronautics and astronautics program. "These people will either lose their jobs or they will be relocated to a different workplace, which in the end will make it harder for people like me to get a job in the industry."

President Barack Obama plans to move forward with the development of a new space vehicle, relying on private industry to do the heavy lifting of designing and testing the system, providing hope for many other students who aren't looking to fly a shuttle but are looking for jobs as engineers, researchers and designers -- even if those jobs won't be found at NASA.

Purdue, which has about 600 students in its space-based program, says the end of the shuttle program will not cause it to change its current curriculum. But the university will continue to broaden its appeal to students, including a new generation of those who already see their futures in the private sector.

'An opportunity'

"You can look at this as an opportunity. We've been seeing a lot of our graduates opting for private companies like SpaceX," said professor Marc Williams, referring to the California-based company that has been chosen by NASA to develop a rocket and spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station in 2011.


Post a Comment