The renowned NASA is facing a big crunch. Its Scientific and Engineering community are ageing fast and are on the verge of retirement. But there are no new young engineers to replace them.
“The people that came into the field in the Apollo era and the early shuttle era are nearing retirement,” Dickman said. “The people that are going to make Mars happen, however, are the kids in school today.”
This is supposedly a worldwide problem. According to the “Golden oldies” the students of today are more interested in a career in the booming IT/Electronic gadgets industry with their fancy salaries and stock options rather than get their hands dirty and greased with traditional engineering fields like Mechanical, Electrical, Civil or Aeronautical Engineering. This sentiment is reflected by the statement of Mr Peter S Worden, the director of NASA Ames Research Center when he says
“The average age of my civil servants is 49 and we only have nine people under the age of 30,Then I talked to Google and they only have nine people over the age of 30.”
But being the bureaucrats that they are. Their approach to “popularising” the study of math and Science among today’s kids who they realise are the ones who will make Mars and beyond happen is quite disappointing.
In conjunction with the Space 2006 conference, the AIAA has a program called Education Alley to show young kids the magic of space and the necessity of learning math and science to get there. In a large hall adjacent to the main conference expo area, hundreds of kids lined up to talk with corporate sponsors and educators — and a speaking robot that wandered the floor.
With this approach they are more likely to scare off the kids rather than get them excited.
Instead they should emphasise success stories like Kalpana Chawla and Anousheh Ansari. Both were women who came from societies that did not put much emphasis about education of Women. But both made it by sheer dint of effort and their passion for the sciences. Their biography reads like the “American dream” and would inspire any kid to follow in their footsteps.
But there is more to it than just the politically correct news plug by NASA. Two commentors for that article have called it nothing but “empty talk”. They call the NASA HR department as a “black box” where applications go in and nothing comes out at the other end. They point out the fact that most of the younger engineers are forced to work as “contractors” or “temporary hires” for long periods and this job uncertainty coupled with lower salaries act as a “effective deterrent” against any “kid” finding his way to a career in NASA.
The situation is similar in India too. The points made by those two commentors brought back memories when i did my Final year engineering project in two such research institutions one a Aeronautical and another a Electronics facility in Bangalore and there too it was quite clear that the workforce was greying and there was not enough young recruits. Most youngsters who joined (as contractors/regulars) and were no less enthusiastic early on would get frustrated and leave in less than a couple of years to work for IT MNC’s where the pay and working conditions were much better.And ofcourse the “Golden oldies” here too would whine about the “kids” in the same way as NASA is doing.
The need of the hour therefore for NASA and other government owned research institutions across the world is to stop whining and fix their own houses. If they want youngsters to find it attractive to take up a career in science then they should allow space for some real passion rather than expect the youngsters to pay obeisance to their bloated egos.