WASHINGTON - The size of NASA's astronaut corps may soon fall below the minimum level needed by the agency to support space station and Artemis missions and other activities, the agency's inspector general warns.
A Jan. 11 report from NASA's Inspector General's Office showed that the agency's astronaut corps, with 44 active astronauts, could fall below the "minimum manifesto requirement" needed to adequately support International Space Station and Artemis missions as soon as the astronauts leaving this year. bureauet. The corps, which at its peak in 2000 had nearly 150 astronauts, is now at its smallest size since the 1970s.
According to the report, the NASA astronaut office conducted a "size analysis" in 2019 and concluded that the corps would fall below the minimum requirement for manifesto in fiscal years 2022 and 2023. This analysis led to the agency's decision to recruit a new class of astronauts, announced December 6 and started two years of training this month.
However, by the time these new astronauts qualify for flight missions in 2024, NASA will have to contend with both continued wear and tear of the current corps and demand for additional astronauts for the Artemis missions. "As a result, the Agency may not have a sufficient number of additional astronauts available for unexpected attrition and crew replacement or ground roles, such as engaging in program development, manning Astronaut Office manager and liaison positions, and acting as spokespersons for the Agency." was stated in the report.
One factor in this shortcoming is NASA's use of a "safety margin" of 15% in its assessment of the size of the astronaut corps needed to solve unexpected wear and tear, medical problems and other factors. The safety margin before 2014 was 25%, and the report noted that "due to lack of documentation, it is unclear why the margin changed."
Other factors include the potential for increased attrition among the corps, especially later in the decade as the ISS nears the end of its life. There is also a greater demand for astronauts to serve in application development roles.
The report also highlighted that a changing skill set among astronauts may be needed with the Artemis lunar missions. NASA lacks "comprehensive demographic information" about its astronauts, making it harder to track how the corps reflects the agency's diversity goals.
Another concern highlighted in the report is training requirements for lunar missions. NASA has not yet selected astronauts for the Artemis 2 and 3 missions, which are now scheduled for 2024 and no earlier than 2025. While these missions are still at least two years away, NASA may "overestimate the time available to develop and implement the necessary training framework and regime "for them, the report concluded. It noted that early in the ISS program, training for missions was up to five years long before being streamlined for the two years of current missions.
The report did not specifically recommend NASA to increase the size of the astronaut corps beyond the new class that has just begun training. However, it recommended NASA reconsider the 15% safety margin used to determine the size of the corps, along with recommendations for improved collection of astronaut demographic data and new guidance for evaluating training. NASA said in a response included in the report that it accepted the recommendations.