Report: NASA needs to keep more astronauts on hand

Sep 07, 2011 By MARCIA DUNN , AP Aerospace Writer

(AP) -- NASA needs to keep more astronauts on staff than planned even though no one is being launched from the home turf, a new report urged Wednesday.

Many astronauts have retired or quit with this year's end of the . But a robust corps still is needed, the report noted, to fill crew slots aboard the and help forge the way for exploration in the decades ahead.

NASA's astronaut corps peaked at 149 in 2000. It's now down to 60. NASA projects it will need a minimum 55 to 60 astronauts over the next five years.

But the National Research Council warns that may not be enough.

Last year, NASA asked the council to look at the role and size of the astronaut corps during this transition time. A committee of 13 experts - five of them former astronauts - conducted the study.

NASA's current projected target size for the astronaut corps "poses a risk to the U.S. investment in human spaceflight capabilities," the report stated. It does not offer enough flexibility to accommodate sudden departures or other matters.

"Reducing the size too much can create shortages of key skills," the report said.

In this time of change and uncertainty, "it's even more important that the talent level, diversity and capabilities of the astronaut office be sustained," Joseph Rothenberg, a former senior NASA official who helped lead the committee, said in a statement. "Making sure NASA maintains adequate training facilities is also essential to ensure a robust astronaut corps."

Because there's different medical requirements for spending six months on a space station, versus a week or two on a space shuttle, NASA needs extra astronauts on hand in case crew replacements are needed because of illness or disability. Besides those assigned to station missions, astronauts will be needed in Houston to help keep the space station running and deal with any emergencies, help develop future spacecraft, and interact with the public, noted the 102-page report.

NASA plans to periodically choose a small group of new astronauts, a good approach, the report said. The last group - consisting of nine - was selected in 2009.

Until U.S. companies start launching crews - estimated to occur in three to five years - NASA will continue to hitch rides on Russian Soyuz capsules launched from Kazakhstan. The Soyuz rockets are grounded and all crew flights to the space station are on hold because of last month's failed launch of space station cargo. The supply vessel crashed into Siberia.

said the space station - continuously inhabited for nearly 11 years - will need to be abandoned temporarily if a new crew cannot be launched before the last of the six residents fly back to Earth in mid-November.

Explore further: How Rosetta arrives at a comet

More information:
NASA: http://www11.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/

National Research Council: http://national-academies.org/

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Astronauts get go ahead for Good Friday launch

Apr 01, 2010

(AP) -- A NASA astronaut and two Russian colleagues received the thumbs-up Thursday for a mission that will boost the population of the International Space Station to six.

Roscosmos Calls For Launch Swaps And Bigger ISS Crew

Mar 15, 2006

The director of Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, said Tuesday that cosmonauts in the next few years would begin flying to the International Space Station aboard NASA shuttles, and U.S. astronauts would fly aboard Russian ...

NASA Amends Crew Assignment for STS-126 Mission

Nov 21, 2007

NASA has replaced a crew member assigned to space shuttle mission STS-126. Astronaut Donald R. Pettit will take the place of astronaut Joan E. Higginbotham, who has left NASA to accept a position in the private sector. The ...

ISS crew to eat 'take out' food

Aug 03, 2006

The International Space Station crew will indulge next week in the ultimate "take-out" food service -- a meal delivered by a NASA space shuttle.

Recommended for you

How Rosetta arrives at a comet

59 minutes ago

After travelling nearly 6.4 billion kilometres through the Solar System, ESA's Rosetta is closing in on its target. But how does a spacecraft actually arrive at a comet?

Lunar occultation of Saturn

1 hour ago

On the night of Monday August 4, mainland Australia will see Saturn disappear behind the moon. It's the third time this year that the moon and Saturn will perfectly line up, as viewed from our part of the ...

SHERLOC to micro-map Mars minerals and carbon rings

2 hours ago

(Phys.org) —An ultraviolet-light instrument on the robotic arm of NASA's Mars 2020 rover will use two types of ultraviolet-light spectroscopy, plus a versatile camera, to help meet the mission's ambitious ...

NuSTAR celebrates two years of science in space

3 hours ago

(Phys.org) —NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, a premier black-hole hunter among other talents, has finished up its two-year prime mission, and will be moving onto its next phase, ...

User comments : 0