And people say the space program is ending…!

NASA just closed their latest application drive for astronaut candidates. A staggering 6372 people applied – the second-largest candidate group in NASA’s entire history! (Personally, I’m rooting for this one.) What gives? Do people love science and technology a lot more all of a sudden? Is it American pride? Is it Newt’s promise to build a Moon base for less than $2 billion?*

It is clear to anyone who follows space activities that the end of the Space Shuttle program was not anything close to the end of NASA itself. The astronaut program is no exception: every few months, a Russian Soyuz blasts off carrying three human beings up to the Space Station or back down to Earth. The completion of the Shuttle program also meant the completion of Space Station construction, allowing the ISS to become an orbital scientific workstation in earnest.

Perhaps it’s the profusion of photoblogging, twittering, and facebooking astronauts driving the upsurge. When we have astronauts writing stuff like this, while in orbit, allowing people to get their own glimpse of life in space, it’s a small wonder that people still want to be astronauts!

* In case you’re curious, $1.9 billion would be 10% of NASA’s budget (devoted to prizes, of course). For comparison, the entire Apollo program cost approximately $25 billion. In 1973 dollars.

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