WASHINGTON, Sept. 7 (UPI) — NASA needs to keep the training pipeline for its astronaut corps intact to stabilize the ranks of U.S. agency astronauts, a report by an expert panel says.
Astronaut numbers are down from about 150 in the mid-1990s to about 60, with a number of them retiring as the space shuttle program ends this year, USA Today reported Wednesday.
“Since 2009, there has been considerable debate and disagreement between Congress and the White House about the future direction of the U.S. human spaceflight program,” the National Research Council’s panel report said.
“While there is currently no clear plan to send U.S. astronauts beyond low Earth orbit in the foreseeable future, it remains a possibility, particularly in light of NASA’s recent announcement of the agency’s intention to develop a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle for follow-on exploration of space,” it said.
Training astronauts for missions on the International Space Station takes three years as opposed to the one year shuttle missions required, the report noted, saying NASA’s margin for extra astronauts should be raised, the report said.