Many smart people believe in humanity’s future in space. However, they don’t yet accept they might have a future in space themselves. The objection from talented professionals working in diverse fields such as biotech, materials sciences, and alternative energy may be summed up this way: “How can I become an astronaut? I’m far too busy pushing the boundaries of my field to put my career on hold for a year or more to make the leap to space.”
Their concerns make sense. Astronaut training is intense. But they’re misguided. Private sector experts needn’t become full-blown astronauts of the Buzz Aldrin variety to transform the world in a positive way. They only need to become what we term space workers.
But first, let us state that Sierra Space is entirely focused on bringing humanity into the Orbital Age™, the most significant transformation to our economy—and culture—since the dawn of the internet. Our vision includes opening space to everyone, not just government-employed specialists and governmental agencies.
Traditionally, we think of everyone who journeys to space as astronauts, but this line is blurring as private citizens venture off-world. So, what’s the difference between experts, scientists, and other professionals living and working as space workers in low-Earth orbit (LEO) and our legacy understanding of astronauts? It’s largely what they’ll be doing up there.
In the Orbital Age, two distinct roles in space will emerge. The first pertains to the astronauts we are already familiar with. Among other things, their important work will involve keeping the systems of the Sierra Space LIFE™ Habitat working at peak efficiency, managing docking operations with the Dream Chaser® spaceplane supply and crew flights, and ensuring personnel and equipment enjoy a smooth orbit at 17,500 miles per hour.
The number of astronauts will rise in the Orbital Age, especially because so many crewed space stations and other crewed vehicles operating concurrently will also grow. But it’s space workers that will balloon exponentially. The term space worker connotes a private sector professional who lives and works in LEO 300 miles above Earth’s surface. Sierra Space believes humanity will truly begin harnessing microgravity to benefit life on Earth and our collective future when leading experts can operate in space without needing to become full-fledged astronauts.
Humanity has already applied this approach to other dangerous fields. We have professionals working and living at the bottom of the ocean, on ships at sea, even in Antarctica. Yet many of these are not professional sailors or cold weather survival specialists. Instead, they are experts in their area whose work is supported by other professionals—in this case—authorities on managing extreme environmental conditions.
Space in the Orbital Age will follow a similar trajectory.
Now that we have established how space workers are not the same as astronauts, let’s imagine the typical day for a space worker living and working in a Sierra Space LIFE Habitat in LEO. Our avatar is an oncologist named Susan. She works for a major pharmaceutical company. Leveraging LEO’s microgravity, she hopes to develop revolutionary treatments for people suffering from the deadliest types of cancer.
When Susan first wakes up, she’s stunned by her view of earth, an awe that never wears off, though she’s been in space for two months. Next, she orients herself using her cabin display to determine current time aboard the LIFE Habitat, current time at her company’s HQ, and current time at her home. If it isn’t the middle of the night for her family back in Saint Louis, she video chats with her husband and kids as she eats breakfast.
Besides enjoying a breathtaking view, her day has unfolded much like it might on a work assignment in a foreign country. But there are some key differences when one inhabits the unique LEO environment. After her morning routine, Susan joins her coworkers and crew for group exercise.
This is not about looking good. Exercising is a necessary part of living in space. If she doesn’t work out her muscles daily, dramatic bone loss can and will occur, a condition called “disuse osteoporosis.” Her daily aerobic routine is an extension of training she received before launching into LEO.
After exercising, Susan participates in a critical safety drill. This is standard protocol so every space worker and astronaut is ready to do their part should an unusual situation arise. (Preparing for the unthinkable may not be common practice for most office workers, but it will be familiar ground for those who’ve spent time aboard a research vessel or in Antarctica.)
These activities out of the way, Susan is ready to focus on research. The bulk of her day concerns the type of work she excels in on earth. Still, as a leading cancer specialist, Susan can make much more progress faster than she ever dreamed of working terrestrially. Example: microgravity affords her novel physical conditions to better study tumors. Meanwhile, she remains in constant contact with her team below thanks to high-bandwidth connectivity. What’s more, Susan also feels immensely confident that the results of her experiments and lab work will return to her company’s facilities via a gentle 1.5G landing aboard a Dream Chaser spaceplane.
As her day draws to a close, Susan breaks bread with her fellow space workers and astronauts. The meal is a mixture of supplies brought from the Dream Chaser, and vegetables grown aboard the LIFE Habitat. The food tastes even better than it should because Susan used a few hours on her days off to raise the crops in the station’s garden.
At this moment, Sierra Space is hard at work turning Susan’s sample day into a standard expectation by enabling America to embrace the Orbital Age. By creating and supporting critical infrastructure and logistics for traveling, living, and working in LEO, our team is empowering the world’s best and brightest to take their contributions to the new level―an orbital level.
If you want to be part of the team that’s making history by opening space to all, please join our team.