We will know an astronaut by the end of the decade, but still need to fill the skills void
The space industry is continuing to achieve ‘firsts’ and new milestones at a rapid pace and last week was no different. SpaceX, for the first time have launched four civilians into space on a three-day trip orbiting the Earth. The flight enabled by the founder of Shift4 payments had its purpose centred around charity and to showcase that a wide cross-section of society will one day experience space No better personified than by Hayley Arceneaux, who is the first person to wear a prosthesis in space.
The news in human spaceflight is also close to home in Australia, with our third ever astronaut announced to fly on Blue Origin’s next sub-orbital flight in October. Dr Chris Boshuizen who co-founded Planet Labs, the company that images every point on Earth every single day, will join this crew in pursuit of inspiring our next generation of space-ready professionals through music and science from space. Chris, who has a passion for music having released his first album under his Dr. Chrispy name, will be taking his music to the edge space next month to support the communication of his experience back to Earth. He hopes that his music will help reach a wider audience and inspire them to pursue careers in STEM.
Chris follows Paul Scully-Power and Andy Thomas as the only other Australians to travel to space, both having to have US citizenship to travel, something which Chris has not needed. Following the flight Chris will join fewer than 20 non-professional astronauts who have been to space.
Fellow Australia, Andrea Boyd, Deputy Head of Astronaut Operations at the European Space Agency, has been recently recognised through Advance’s annual emerging leader Award, for her work in human spaceflight. Andrea is the only Australia working on the International Space Station’s Flight Control team, talking every day to Astronauts on the station.
For Australia, human spaceflight is much closer and more tangible than many of us acknowledge.
We need to embrace the power of sending people to space in inspiring our future engineers, scientists, lawyers, artists and technicians. Australia already has world-leading remote medicine capability through the Australian Antarctic Division, who recently partnered with NASA to test a robot under the sea ice, which may one day search for life on other planets.
We also have leading space suit and space medicine capabilities through companies like Human Aerospace developing next generation space suits, and the University of Tasmania offering a ‘Humans in Space course’. For Australia, it is going to be increasingly important to define how we engage on space tourism and other human spaceflight programs. While it would be premature to have an astronaut program in Australia, the benefit of having Australian astronauts can’t be dismissed. Something which countries like the UAE have demonstrated in recent years.
Australia is heading towards a significant void between the demand for skilled workforce and our ability to provide, particularly in the space sector as well as other emerging high technology industries. Our approach to address the void needs to be comprehensive – targeted visa programs to bring in international talent, adequate TAFE and university places, but most importantly, completing the vision for our kids and future leaders so that they can see a pathway to a full career in this sector.