NASA faces astronaut shortage, new report says

A shortage of astronauts could affect NASA’s upcoming missions to the International Space Station and beyond over the next five years.

A new report from NASA’s astronaut corps management says the space agency is concerned it won’t meet mission demands with the current number of trained astronauts. The news comes at a time when NASA is entering a new era of spaceflight, with plans to return to the Moon – and, eventually, go to Mars – as part of its Artemis mission.

According to the report, NASA trains and assigns specific missions based on ISS needs, but “the astronaut corps is expected to fall below its target size or minimum manifest requirement during the exercise ( FY) 2022 and FY 2023 due to attrition and additional spaceflight manifest requirements.

After peaking at nearly 150 astronauts in 2000, the report says, body size shrank with the end of space shuttle missions in 2011. It now stands at 44, one of the smallest frames. astronauts of the past two decades.

According to NASA’s Office of the Inspector General, NASA has exactly enough astronauts for flights in fiscal year 2022, with no room for “unscheduled attrition and crew reassignments.”

Expedition 65 flight engineers, clockwise from bottom, Mark Vande Hei, Megan McArthur, Shane Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet participate in robotics training June 10, 2021, in preparation for support two spacewalks. [Credit: NASA]

As of November 2021, NASA has only 44 astronauts trained to handle missions to and from the ISS, and for Artemis mission support efforts. It is one of the smallest astronaut frames of the past 20 years, according to reports.

Until now, the space agency allowed an astronaut’s skills to drive assignments and mission planning.

“The chief and deputy chief of the astronaut office said they could use various tracking systems if needed, but given the small number of astronauts in the corps, they mostly rely on their own informal knowledge to inform skills decisions,” the report said. “While this type of informal decision-making has been used to manage ISS missions, it may not be effective as body size increases, the ever-changing demands of Artemis are incorporated into training. astronauts and attempt to track skill sets over time for multiple missions become more complex.

Meet the needs of future missions

In the report, the office made four recommendations to the chief of the astronaut office to ensure that current and future mission needs are met.

  1. Centralize and maintain detailed astronaut data to help inform recruitment and training to include increasing diversity among astronauts.
  2. Determine if the 15% safety margin used when calculating the minimum manifest requirement is sufficient for the current and near future frequency of spaceflight missions and document the reasoning behind the selected margin.
  3. At least 18 months before the planned launch of Artemis II, coordinate with the Artemis Program Offices to complete the development and chartering of the Artemis board and panel framework.
  4. Update internal guidelines to document the process of identifying and developing training programs to align with Artemis mission needs.

“Overall, the astronaut corps is well managed by the Astronaut Office. However, NASA now faces new demands and challenges with the alignment of its current corps and the recruitment of new astronauts to meet the demanding demands of this new era of multiple missions in low Earth orbit and in space. deep space,” the report said.

NASA announced its 2021 Astronaut Candidate Class on December 6, 2021. The 10 candidates are: U.S. Air Force Maj. Nichole Ayers, Christopher Williams, Retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Luke Delaney, U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jessica Wittner, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Anil Menon, U.S. Air Force Maj. Marcos Berríos, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Jack Hathaway, Christina Birch, US Navy Lt. Deniz Burnham and Andre Douglas. [Credit: NASA]

NASA recently announced that its first class of astronauts in four years will participate in the upcoming Artemis missions to the Moon. A class of 10 candidates was chosen, being the first candidates to join the program after NASA began requiring at least a master’s degree in a STEM field.

Read more: Meet NASA’s newest astronaut recruits

“We’ve taken many leaps and bounds over the past 60 years, fulfilling President Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon,” Johnson Center Director Vanessa Wyche said during the announcement. “Today we’re reaching deeper into the stars as we once again advance to the moon, and to Mars with NASA’s newest class of astronaut candidates.”

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