SpaceTEC® Resource Blog for Aerospace Technicians

Advice for Challenging Times

Into the sunset of history. Credit RV-103.com

These are challenging times right now for our nation’s Human Space Flight program and the aerospace workforce in general.  With the cancellation of the Space Shuttle program and the future of America’s HSF in doubt, there is cause for pessimism.  But, I don’t think that all is lost or doomed.

I’ve been a “space nut” ever since I first saw Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon and when I was first hired to work on the Space Shuttle fleet, it was a dream come true.  I used to get up every day, kiss my wife goodbye, and say to her “I’m going to work on my spaceship!”   I remember reading an article once quoting an engineer working on the Mars Rovers who when asked at a dinner party what he did at work, he replied, “I drive a rover around on Mars.  What do you do?”

These are the unique experiences we all have.  Out of the billions that live in this world, just a few thousand of us have had the experiences being part of space exploration.  Every day was an adventure at Kennedy Space Center and though some days the particular job I was doing may not be “fun”, KSC was still the coolest place to work.  The same applies at all the NASA centers no matter if you were working in HSF or planetary probes, etc.  Those memories and experiences cannot ever be taken away once you have lived them.

Working in a space program requires you to be a problem solver.  While others in this world were trying to figure out what to wear for the day or what fast food restaurant to have lunch at, you were figuring out unique problems and solving them so you could once again “touch the heavens” and make our world a better place.

With the unknowns facing our workforce right now, those problem solving skills need to be used to the fullest extent, not just in a space program, but in your own personal lives and careers.  How can you survive the time between programs?  How can you influence what HSF program will come into being?  What can you do to make yourself more marketable?  If you are currently a student in an Aerospace Technology program, you might ask, “Is there any hope that I will get to use my degree in a space program?”  For those questions and many others, I have some humble advice.

Increase Your Vision

Kennedy Space Center, or Marshall, or Houston, etc. are not the only space centers in this great world of ours.  Too many people become focused on the one space center in their area that they forget that NASA, private companies, and other countries have space centers throughout the world.  With English being the common language for airlines and science in this world, you already have an advantage being able to speak the language.  You can apply to other space centers and combine your adventures working in space flight with living in a new place.

Be a problem solver. Example: A new creative way to chase cars. Credit Thornton May

Be a Problem Solver Outside of Work

What can you do to survive while awaiting the next program?  You have an experience that most people in this world will never have.  You may want to try to find a way to communicate that experience and share it with other people.  You can do this with a blog, lectures, write a book, or maybe teach.  As a technician, why can’t you build a “Launch Control Center” with bells, buttons, and blinking lights to enhance some child’s experiences with his model rocket he got for
Christmas and sell them?  The media and the government may not be too interested in space flight right now but Joe Public still is.  You are truly limited by only your imagination on how to share these experiences with other people and profit from it.

Be Politically Aware and Active

Whether you like it or not, politicians determine our programs and fund it.  Nearly all of these politicians couldn’t tell the difference from the nose of the Space Shuttle to the tail. Most people in aerospace think that only CEO’s and rich entrepreneurs have exclusive access to our politicians, but that is not true.  You have access also through email, regular mail, town hall meetings, phone calls, etc. You can find your contact info at this website.  You just need to input your zip code.   Use these methods of communication to teach your politicians about space exploration and why it is important to our nation. Remember, these politicians actually work for you and they need to hear from you.  Ask them what HSF plan they support.  Did you know there are four leading HSF plans out there right now? Educate yourself as to what each of these plans are and decide for yourself if any of them are right for our nation or if another plan not being thought of right now is better and let your politicians know.   Tell them why you think the plan you’ve chosen is the right one and be specific about it.  Ask them if they support your plan and don’t accept a general answer such as “I support the space program.”  Ask for specifics.  Be a frequent communicator and teacher with your politicians.  Just because you are a technician does not mean you don’t have credibility to lobby your politicians for what you think is right for our nation’s HSF program.  Vote for and donate to the campaigns of the politicians that share your dream.  Support them by working in their campaign office as a volunteer.

Credit NASA

Be Aware of Your Industry

Learn as much as you can about all the different space programs, ones that are currently in place and ones that are coming online.   Broadening your knowledge about the different space programs out there gives you an advantage to seeing opportunities to find work that others may miss.  Check out their websites, get on their press release email lists, network with people inside those programs, go to various space websites and participate in the comment forums.  If you work on satellites as a technician, did you know that NASA has programs that send satellites into the upper atmosphere via balloons?  How can your skills translate to that program if your current program ends?

Don’t Stop Learning

Some people think that once they obtain their degree and learn their job, they don’t need to learn anymore.  You should always be stretching and growing or you risk being left behind once your program ends.  If you are a technician on the Space Shuttle, think about learning about robotics, composites, etc.  Look at other space programs, both current and future ones, and make an educated decision as to what their needs will be, and then get certified or degreed in those areas so you can be more marketable.  The worst thing you could do is just sit home and collect unemployment waiting on a space program to call you.  Get out there and add to your education and pursue those opportunities.

Most Importantly Do Not Give Up Hope

“Chance favors the prepared” as the old saying goes.  Being an aerospace technician has already given you the most important skill set and that is problem solving.  Make use of it in your pursuit to further your career and you will be surprised at the potential opportunities that will come your way.

Please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments area as to what our community of technicians can do to weather these uncertain times.

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Monday, September 27th, 2010 Career Advice, Introduction to Aerospace, Space Politics