Where have they gone?
Where Have All the Shuttle Engineers Gone?, Air & Space Magazine, June 2013
Air & Space magazine has an article in their June 2013 edition that asks this question, which it then goes on to answer in a few cases (including a good friend of mine)… I realize that this article was meant to be a “human interest” story showing that a few individuals have gone from working on the US Manned Spaceflight program to other interesting roles (including alligator hunting and NASCAR racing teams), but they finally get to the REAL issue at hand:
When the layoffs hit NASA and its contract companies in 2010 and 2011, some worried that the ensuing loss of institutional knowledge would make it difficult for the United States to mount another manned spaceflight program. Given how many workers have turned to ventures outside aerospace, those worries are probably well founded.
I’ve been saying this for the last few years – you CANNOT casually release this many amazing and technologically brilliant people and assume that you can recreate that institutional knowledge at will. Too many people are “gone for good”, living understandably by the “once-bitten, twice-shy” mantra.
This line from the article bothered me, though:
But the skills required to launch humans into space are surprisingly similar to those used to drill for oil, or reroute flights, or win a NASCAR championship.
The culture of the manned spaceflight operations and engineering world is/was a special thing – it will take a long time to recover from the short-sighted stupidity of last year’s gutting of the program.
Yes… I know… we have an ISS support community that is very much a strong and vibrant part of the manned spaceflight effort. That’s a small shadow of the combined KSC/JSC/MSFC/etc teams of just over a year ago.
Manned spaceflight operations and engineering is not something that can be hired “off the street” or straight out of college. It is a culture, grown from experience, forged from challenges, and (quite honestly) a labor of love and devotion from the people who were thrown to the side like so much refuse.