How GOP Boomers Killed The Dream Of Being An Astronaut
Being an older millennial is a curse. You’re old enough to remember when the future was still tinted in optimistic shades, when adults fought about big issues but seemed to want to solve real problems, at least to the untrained youthful eye. Healthcare was not yet absurdly expensive. Houses and colleges were within reach. You were told that you had to study hard and excel, and you too could be anything. Why, you might even become an astronaut! We’ll need lots of those because haven’t you heard, we’re going back to the Moon and then onward to Mars and beyond!
But that was then, before the country was ran by a paranoid, perpetually enraged gerontocracy that did its best to stamp out any and all hope for future generations, and whose response to any criticism of its self-destructive and harmful behavior from said youth is “shut up kids, here are fifty articles why you’re all little pieces of shit not worth the gametes we wasted on you.” We never went back to the Moon or explored any asteroids. We sent robots and paid some lip service to the spirit of exploration and left it at that.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the time a living, breathing human set foot on another world, we’re reminded again and again that it was seen as nothing more than a publicity stunt by the politicians who signed the checks, and that space exploration, in general, is dismissed as a waste of time and money to this day. So, it’s rather disingenuous to see so many baby boomers on social media decrying a recent international survey showing that kids today are more interested in becoming teachers, professional athletes and YouTubers than astronauts.
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Oh, those rotten little brats, they cry, they want attention instead of learning the skills required to build a future and explore new worlds! And to these face-palming pearl-clutching elders on Twitter and Facebook I say with all due respect, are you kidding me, you sanctimonious parasites on the global body politic? The very same people who do their best impression of an angry Gollum when a politician proposes actually giving space programs more than a rounding error of a budget but supported a trillion dollar tax giveaway to the wealthy are now going to bash kids for not being interested in a profession they tried everything to make irrelevant over the past 40 years?
First off, let’s start with the fact that being an astronaut is an awesome vocation, one we should promote and one that needs to become key to our future as a species, but it’s not a career that will reliably employ you for decades. Since the very first days of human spaceflight, there have only been 533 individual astronauts along with three test pilots who crossed the Karman Line, the official beginning of space. There are only 38 astronauts eligible for a mission assignment today in the United States compared to some 5,000 professional athletes in the major leagues. You are literally more than two orders of magnitude likely to play in the NBA than train to fly into low Earth orbit.
It’s also a well-paid job, but not especially so. Salaries start at $66,000 and can top out at $144,566 according to a government pay schedule, very similar to that of an IT professional, albeit with a lot less excitement and wear and tear on the body. By contrast, the salary for many pro athletes in top tier leagues start at close to $500,000 and average millions. In other words, being an astronaut may be a pretty good job once you get it but it will not make you financially secure in today’s climate, and it’s incredibly hard to get selected to become one, while a career in sports or high-end office work is much easier to get and more lucrative.
After decades of dismissing space exploration as a luxury we can barely afford, a Cold War era experiment living on borrowed time, the elders in power managed to dethrone being an astronaut from the pinnacle of human achievements and turn it into a hyper-exclusive club living under constant threats of budget cuts and a leadership constantly changing its mind and its goals, often leading to confusion in mission selection and assignments.
Why would kids who look at these statistics be seriously interested in dedicating their lives to the equivalent of the winning the Powerball? Of course they would rather become YouTubers or professional athletes. Those career paths are somehow more attainable and can be far more fiscally rewarding, and when those don’t work out, they’ll turn to something more attainable or find a new focus in life as they learn more about the real world. After all, these are kids and as kids, they often want to emulate their teachers or celebrities they see on TV and online.
But there is a much more important and much worse message here. Instead of aiming for the stars, the kids just want to survive. They know that college may be out of their reach. They know their healthcare will be obscenely expensive. They know the planet is becoming so polluted, millions of lives are threatened. They know that space agencies have shoestring budgets for the kind of work they do. How do they focus on learning the skills necessary to take the one in 100 million shot at becoming astronauts when they don’t know how they’re going to pay their rent or whether they’ll ever be able to retire?
Sure, they’ll find out that YouTubers don’t make anywhere near the money they think they do eventually, but it’s really hard to fault them for not aiming for the stars as their parents and grandparents keep them planted firmly on the ground with policies designed to loot their future and leave them with mountains of debt. Plus, when was the last time they got to see coverage of a mission to space? When was the last time astronauts went somewhere new and exciting? When was the last time their schools focused on letting them explore rather than train them how to take tests? The elders in power have done everything they could to break their curiosity and limit their avenues for experimentation.
I know that not all baby boomers are to blame. Many have probably spent years wondering what happened to the glorious sci-fi future they’ve been promised since the 1980s. But the depressing answer is that their contemporaries happened. Their counterparts to whom science and technology where irrelevant unless they produced a certain return on investment within five years, to whom anything besides their bank account was meaningless, and who after ignoring decades of warnings from experts lost their jobs or saw their life savings crater in the Great Recession and turned to conspiracy theories and bigotry instead of realizing the error of their ways and misplaced trust in right wing demagogues.
Instead of lamenting how few kids want to be astronauts, the boomers in question should be kicking themselves for stamping out so much hope for aiming higher for future generations so they can retire in relative luxury and put their excesses on the youths’ credit cards. We were told we would go to the stars. Instead we’re being left to clean up our elders’ messes and while we wait to get started over their countless objections, we’re treated to endless tirades about how dumb, worthless, and entitled we are for actually wanting our reality to live up to at least one or two of the promises our parents made to us in childhood.
And we’re supposed to take it all as a useful life lesson while we watch our hopes and dreams burn to roast the marshmallows for boomers’ smores. You know what? Screw that with all the phalluses our civilization can muster. It’s a good thing our current crop of the leaders and their fans and enablers are on their way out thanks to the passage of time. And if they want to take a sneak peek at their eulogies, all I can say is that they’re gonna be lit…
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