First all-female spacewalk, and NASA unveils new space suits
This week, NASA unveiled its new generation of space suits to be worn by its astronauts in future space missions and on Artemis missions to the moon as early as 2024.
Back in March, the agency experienced international embarrassment as plans to conduct the first all-female spacewalk in history were derailed by a lack of enough space suits that fit female astronauts. Today, at 7:30am EDT, NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir ventured outside the International Space Station, on a mission to repair a faulty battery charging unit. According to the Guardian, astronauts have reportedly been on over 200 spacewalks during the construction and maintenance of the ISS, but only 15 women have ever been on a spacewalk, and have always been accompanied by men. There hasn’t been an all-female event in more than a half-century of space walking.
This historic event has highlighted an issue that has plagued America’s space agency as its cadre of cosmonauts has grown steadily more diverse over the past decades. NASA has an answer, however.
NASA is moving forward with design and development of the suits astronauts will wear on the lunar surface and other destinations, including Mars. Earlier this week, NASA showcases its two spacesuits designed for lunar exploration – one for launch and re-entry aboard the agency's Orion spacecraft, known as the Orion Crew Survival Suit, and one for exploring the surface of the Moon's South Pole, known as the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU).
The xEMU suit improves on the suits previously worn during the Apollo era and those currently worn during spacewalks outside the International Space Station. This new spacesuit will accommodate a broad range of astronaut sizes and features an improved fit, comfort, and mobility for the lunar surface.
Artemis astronauts will be more nimble than ever before with mobility enhancements in the new suits, preventing the iconic "bunny hopping" motion of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
Specifically, the xEMU suits feature new audio systems in their helmets, replacing the old ‘Snoopy’ caps worn by Apollo astronauts; a redundant system-packed portable life support systems; redesigned hip, knee and shoulder joints for increased flexibility; and more flexible boots.
“If we remember the Apollo generation, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin bunny-hopped on the surface of the moon,” said NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine at the press conference, as one of the agency’s space suit engineers, Kristine Davis walked about in the new red, white and blue suit. “Now, we are actually going to be able to walk on the surface of the moon, which is very different from our suits of the past.”
The Talent War for Skilled Tech Workers
Post-pandemic, our biggest problem might be a lack of skilled tech talent. As companies move forward with their digital transformation plans, they aim to hire new staff and train their current employees. Out of 750 UK companies polled in a Studio Graphene digital report, 45% plan to hire new tech staff in the next 12 months and more than half (53%) intend to invest in training for their current workers.
Companies are realising that their survival now depends on a limited pool of qualified technology workers. Among the hardest-hit economies are those in Brazil, Indonesia, and Japan, but even the United States and the UK will experience the squeeze. “It’s pure supply and demand”, said Alan Guarino, a Korn Ferry vice-chairman. “Companies are paying more...but there’s still a shortage of high-skilled workers. Technology is the thread that runs across every aspect of business”.
Which Jobs Are In Demand?
According to a 2021 IT salary report by Robert Half Technology, the most in-demand tech jobs of the year include information security professionals, cloud architects, database administrators, systems analysts, and DevOps engineers, among others. But in those fields, it’s difficult to find hires with significant experience, multiple specialisations, and a high level of expertise. And multinationals such as Google, Apple, and IBM usually scoop them up.
Regardless of the exact role, companies need workers who can implement advanced security systems, target cloud and network vulnerabilities, document risk points and failures, and abide by new industry tech regulations. This will likely mean that companies start to take certifications like the ones pioneered by Google and Amazon, instead of insisting on four-year undergraduate degrees.
But even as coding boot camps and year-long certification programmes have ramped up to try to close the gap, smaller tech firms and startups struggle to compete with their bigger counterparts. Remote work doesn’t help matters. “Hire-from-anywhere policies will only heat up a tight candidate market”, said Ryan Sutton, a district president of technology staffing services at Robert Half. “Companies who were already having a hard time recruiting are no longer just working against local competitors, but potentially desirable companies across the country”.
How Can CIOs Solve the Crisis?
As governments try to do their part—Poland offers residency and potential citizenship to skilled tech workers, India offers broad IT, telecommunications, and cybersecurity programmes, and the Netherlands lets its foreign employees earn 30% tax-free income—company executives must take measures of their own.
Some CIOs have started looking to other countries to source expert talent. In the United States, where 80% of U.S. employers state that tech recruiting is a significant challenge, some firms are looking to Mexico, where 20% of college graduates have engineering degrees. As a result, tech companies such as Cisco and Intel have sourced labour from both the U.S. and Mexico.
To compete, here are some first steps:
- Invest in cybersecurity and cloud development training programmes
- Hire based on skills and expertise, not necessarily degrees
- Outsource to other countries with high percentages of skilled engineers and programmers
Overall, companies that broaden their search for talent and upskill their current employees will be best equipped for digital transformation. As Ritam Gandhi, founder and director of Studio Graphene, said: “Our research shows that, on the whole, UK businesses have adopted a long-term mindset [towards] technology and innovation”.