Astronauts or Astro-nots?

You must have heard by now, back in July Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin both launched ordinary citizens to space. When I say ordinary, please read rich/lucky. 

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic successfully launched and returned 6 people from the edge of space. Virgin Galactic has this 2 stage launch process. An aircraft first takes you to high altitude. From there, the rocket separates and uses thrusters to go into space. 

Blue origin does things in a more traditional way. Using rocket propulsion from the very first. 

In blue origin’s case there were 4 people, including Jeff. They were in space for about 11 minutes. 

In both cases you will notice, the launch is conveniently in day time. Not some odd time at night. This is because there was no need for orbital injection. They could take any orbit as long as they were empty. This is not the case for satellites. For satellites, you must inject your payload into a specific orbit. So launch times are not always convenient. 

I hope you all enjoyed the Twitter drama in addition to the launch itself. https://twitter.com/blueorigin/status/1413521627116032001?lang=en 

And https://twitter.com/blueorigin/status/1413521631717122059?lang=en. There was a lot of dirt thrown around as no one wanted to lose customers to the other company. I am not going to comment on the Karman line debate. To me it doesn’t matter. In both cases, you have enough altitude to gaze towards the earth in awe. What I will comment about is the use of the word “astronaut”. 

If you visit Blue Origin website (as of 2021 September 25) you will see something like, “become astronauts”. Is it really that easy to become an astronaut?

I have had the opportunity to talk with 2 astronauts. That being a social setting, we could ask just about anything. What you immediately notice about them, they have this aura of calmness around them. Not in a rush. You can get a glimpse of knowledge and experience when you talk to them face to face. And when they start talking about space, there is a spark of flame in their eyes and a hint of smile. These people dedicated their entire life to follow one goal. They train for a decade even before a mission is set for them.

To become an astronaut they pursued a degree in advanced science, sometimes serving in the military. Gaining tons of experience before even applying to become an astronaut. Your application is one in a few thousand others. From that you get shortlisted and finally accepted to be ‘trained’ as an astronaut. 

And now if people have a quarter million in their bank, can they call themselves an astronaut? Sorry mate. Feels like a gimmick to me. 

In both cases, there was a ‘ceremony’ shortly after the landing. Ceremony where they were ‘awarded’ astronaut wings. Richard Branson was designated as ‘mission specialists’ in the official documentation. If you visit Blue Origin website (as of September 2021) you’ll see the term “Commercial astronauts” https://www.blueorigin.com/news/first-human-flight-updates. Participants did go through a minimum amount of training before the flight. 

https://www.theverge.com/2021/7/10/22569889/virgin-galactic-launch-watch-richard-branson-space but this is nowhere close to the real thing to call yourself an astronaut. 

By the time I managed to finally write this article, another private company, SpaceX, had successfully launched 4 more people to space. This time, higher than the other 2 companies (even higher than ISS), longer than other 2 companies (3 days). The passenger ‘had difficulties’ using the restroom while they were orbiting the earth. Dude, what were you expecting? People gave their lives for us to come so far. I’m upset about how the industry is trying to sell this as roller coaster tickets. Would I have taken the ride if I had the opportunity? Probably. Do I have the money to buy the tickets? Nope. Would I call myself an astronaut if I could go. Nope. Absolutely no. If I’m a passenger on a commercial flight, do I get to call myself a pilot? Being an astronaut takes dedication, courage, commitment on a level that only a few can imagine. I’m glad that the conversation around this has started https://edition.cnn.com/2021/09/16/business/astronaut-wings-spacex/index.html. Maezawa san is flying soon. Call them space-tourists or whatever, but to me, they are astro-nots. 

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