If This Is Your Inspiration From Space, You’re Doing It Wrong

So after a false start due to bad weather, the first crewed launch of a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule with two astronauts on board has gone ahead. After playing catch-up with the ISS for around 27 hours they’re now safely aboard. At times it seems that space launches have become everyday occurrences, but they are still heroes who have risked their lives in the furtherment of mankind’s exploration of space. Their achievement, and that of all the scientists, engineers, and other staff who stand behind them, is immense.

I watched the drama unfold via the live video feed. Having heaved a huge sigh of relief once they were safely in orbit, the feed cut to the studio, and then moved on to interview the NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. He was naturally elated at a successful launch, and enthused about the agency’s achievement. You can watch the full interview embedded below, but what caught my attention was his parting sentence:

And if this can inspire a young child to become the next Elon Musk, or the next Jeff Bezos, or the next Sir Richard Branson, then that’s what this is all about

I was slightly shocked and saddened to hear this from the NASA administrator, because to my mind the careers of Musk, Bezos, or Branson should not be the ones first brought to mind by a space launch. This isn’t a comment on those three in themselves; although they have many critics it is undeniable that they have each through their respective space companies brought much to the world of space flight. Instead it’s a comment on what a NASA administrator should be trying to inspire in kids.

Ask yourself how many billionaire masters-of-the-universe it takes for a successful space race compared to the number of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, technicians, physicists, et al. From the anecdote of the NASA administrator it takes about three, but if he is to make good on his goal of returning to the Moon in 2024 and then eventually taking humanity to Mars it will take a generation packed full of those other roles. To understand that we’ll have to take a trip back to the Apollo era, and how that generation of kids were inspired by the spacecraft on their screens.

Inspiration from probably the coolest room in the world at the time, the Apollo mission control in Houston.
Inspiration from probably the coolest room in the world at the time, the Apollo mission control in Houston. NASA on The Commons / No restrictions

Fifty years ago, we were very much on the brink of becoming a spacefaring planet. American astronauts were taking their first steps on the Moon, and Soviet cosmonauts were occupying real space stations that would soon be capable of housing them for months at a time. Planetary probes were returning colour TV pictures from other worlds, and it was certain that in the immediate aftermath of the Apollo programme we’d be sending astronauts and probably cosmonauts too further afield. A Mars base in the 1980s perhaps, and following our fictional Star Trek heroes further afield thereafter.

We now know it didn’t quite work out that way, but a whole generation of tech-inclined kids grew up wanting nothing more than to be involved in space flight. The vast majority of us never made it, but with that inspiration we took our soldering irons and 8-bit home computers and ran with them. Those NASA folks were the coolest of role-models, and no doubt their Soviet equivalents were too for kids on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

With the best will in the world, the chances of any kid becoming the next Jeff Bezos is about as high as that of their becoming the next Neil Armstrong. Compared to the number of kids in the world, the number of billionaires and the number of astronauts both pale into statistical insignificance. But the chances of a kid becoming an engineer or a scientist is much higher, and in those careers their chances of having some of their work be involved with the space effort becomes not entirely unlikely.

I understand what the NASA administrator was trying to say, but can’t shake the feeling that if those are the people he rolls out to inspire kids watching a space launch, he’s missed an opportunity. Those are the names we all recognize, but shouldn’t we also elevate the people making the scientific breakthroughs so their names are equally recognized? Like Margaret Hamilton, Gene Kranz, and Sergei Korolev and many others before them, we should be making names like Tom Mueller and Margarita Marinova prominent examples of where a career in the sciences can take you. But to be honest, the real problem is we just don’t hear much about all the people doing this fascinating engineering and that’s a sad state of affairs.

Looks like it’s time for Hackaday to pursue a biography series based on the many great minds who are the ones delivering on the promise and vision of today’s (and tomorrow’s) space race. Get us started by talking about your favorite behind the scenes science folks in the comments below.

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Job Application Script Automates The Boring Stuff With Python

Job hunting can certainly require a good amount of hoop-jumping in today’s age. Even if you’re lucky enough to have your application read by an actual human, there’s no guarantee the person on the other end has much of an understanding about your skill set. Oftentimes, the entire procedure is futile from the start, and as a recent graduate, [harshibar] is well aware of the soul-crushing experience investing a lot of time in it can be. Well, as the saying goes: if you can’t beat them, join them — and if you can’t join them, automate the hell out of the application process.

As the final piece of a “5 Python Projects in 5 Days” challenge [harshibar] set for herself — which also spawned a “Tinder for Netflix” for the web development section of it — she essentially created a web-scraper that gathers job openings for a specific search term, and automatically sends an application to each and every one of them. Using Beautiful Soup to parse the scraped pages of a certain job portal, Selenium’s browser automation functionality to fill out the online application forms, she can get all her information into the form saving countless hours in comparison to the manual alternative. The program even hits the apply button.

While the quantity-over-quality approach may not be for everyone, there’s of course room for more filtering and being more selective about the job openings beforehand, which [harshibar] also addresses in her video about the project (embedded below). And while this won’t fix the application process itself, we can definitely see the satisfaction a beating-them-at-their-own-game might provide — plus, it can’t have a worse miss rate than your typical LinkedIn “recruiter”. Still, if you’re looking for a more systematic approach, have a look at [Lewin Day]’s view on the subject, he even has advice job hunting is still further down the road for you.

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The Young Engineers Guide To Career Planning

It’s often said that engineers aren’t born, they’re made. Or more accurately, taught, tested, and accredited by universities. If you’re in high school, you’re probably starting to think about potential career paths and may be considering an engineering degree. A lot of work goes into a good college application, and it might seem like the hardest part is getting in. However, if your end goal is to get yourself a great engineering job at the end of your studies, it pays to have your head up from day 1!

I Just Need A Degree, Right?

Back in my freshman days, there was a saying that was popular on campus, particularly with those studying STEM topics. “Ps get degrees.” Your college’s grading system might use different letters, but the basic gist was that a pass mark was all that was required to get your piece of paper at the end of your four years. While this is technically true, it’s only really a useful ethos if your aim is to simply get a degree. If your goal is to use that degree to score yourself a plum job in your field, it would be unwise to follow this credo.

This attitude will net you plenty of wonderful memories at the bar, but it will dent your chances of landing a solid job upon graduation. All in moderation!

The reality of the modern job market is that it’s highly competitive. Recruiters can receive hundreds of applications for a single job, meaning the vast majority of applicants don’t even make it to the interview stage. To trim down the pile, various criteria are used to pick out the ideal candidates. An easy way to do this is to sort by grades. Having a low GPA can therefore see your application relegated to the trashcan, before you even get a chance to impress anyone with your carefully honed skills. Continue reading “The Young Engineers Guide To Career Planning”

Retrotechtacular: So You Want To Be A Weldor

Welding is one of those things that takes minutes to learn and years to master. It requires coordination, strength, and a good pair of eyes. This vocational guidance video from the early 1940s touches on these points and more for those considering careers in welding. The narrator jumps right in, discussing welding types, equipment operation, and employment opportunities in both the welding field itself and other fields that use welding techniques.

Oxy-acetylene welding is one of the oldest methods of fusing metal. A flame fueled by a specific mixture of pure oxygen and acetylene gas heats the metal welding rod and the work piece to plasticity, which allows them to join together. An oxy-acetylene setup can also be used to cut metal, though a special cutting torch with a kind of oxygen turbo boost lever is required. The work piece is heated to red-hot at the point along the edge where the cut will start. The oxygen-rich flame will cut right through the piece.

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