Becoming an astronaut has never been so popular. Whether this is due in part to the continued hype surrounding commercial flights into space, or the recent press coverage of Tim Peake’s 6 month expedition on the International Space station, 2016 has seen an exponential rise in applications to NASA.
This year, 18,300 would-be cosmonauts are currently battling for a mere 14 places on NASA’s forthcoming astronaut class: a 300% rise in applications, compared with the last round, back in 2012. Never mind the gruelling physical selection test required by NASA, going into space is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Not to mention the psychological consequences of continued living in an environment far removed from the circadian rhythms of planet earth, prolonged periods of time in microgravity can led to numerous physiological conditions. In the past, astronauts on extended expeditions have suffered bone loss, muscle atrophy and changes to cardiovascular function. Furthermore, exposure to space radiation from heavy ions can pose longer-term risks such as cataracts and cancer.
Such risks though are certainly not deterring a new generation of space travellers from reaching for the stars. There is even a Tim Peake Primary Project. How to mitigate the risks of space travel and researching new ways of coping in space should certainly be at the front of every budding astronaut’s mind.
Engineering, Physics and Physical Natural Science graduates should all follow Tim Peak’s expedition with keen intrigue.