Mile(s) High Manufacturing

ISSLast spring I spoke at a program at Stanford University where I learned about the futuristic Space Elevator that is being conceived to run material up into space. Click here for more information on this very cool project that will someday be the way material is transported into space.

Until that day, we will probably be using the Space Shuttle or its successor vehicle to do that job. Regardless of how the material is getting into space, the men and women who receive the material will have to have the skills that on the lowly ground are that of manufacturer and construction team. Think about this and you’ll see why an engineering background is relevant to being an astronaut but being a lawyer or accountant (or blogger) is probably pretty far from the job description necessary to be a productive astronaut on the International Space Station.

Just look at a few of the jobs this crew will do up there:

* “ensure that the orbiting outpost can provide the power and cooling needed to house six crew members and run European and Japanese labs, slated to arrive at the station beginning next October;”
* “install a new $11 million truss to the station’s ‘backbone’;” and
* “connect a set of solar panels to the station’s powergrid.”

As the attached article from the Christian Science Monitor notes, “these are not simple plug-and-play operations.” In fact, they are the kind of things that engineers and technical workers do everyday at every manufacturing plant around the country. They don’t have to go out on a spacewalk to do it, but it’s sure true that mechanical skills are a key part of being today’s astronaut. While we marvel at the things astronauts do way up in space, it would be appropriate now and then to recognize the men and women who do similar feats on the ground day in and day out, as America’s manufacturing facilities. They are heroes, too, providing this country with a high standard of living and incredible innovations.