In October of 2021, we rejoiced as NASA Astronaut Sally Ride was added to the U.S. Mint's "American Women Quarters" program, marking the first commemoration of a female astronaut on a U.S. quarter. It marked a great moment for astronauts everywhere and for humanity.
Now, however, there is some bad news surfacing for NASA's famed astronauts. According to a new report released by the agency’s Office of Investigator General, there currently aren't enough of them.
"As NASA enters a new era of human space flight, including returning to the Moon and eventually landing humans on Mars, effective management of its astronaut corps — the people who fly its space flight missions — is critical to the Agency’s success. Astronauts serve as the face and voice of the Agency’s efforts to inspire the next generation of explorers, scientists, and engineers. After reaching its peak of nearly 150 astronauts in 2000, the size of the corps diminished with the end of Space Shuttle missions in 2011 and now stands at 44, one of the smallest cadres of astronauts in the past 20 years," stated the report.
The report continued to say that this latest development means that there may not be a sufficient number of astronauts available for unanticipated attrition and crew reassignments or ground positions required for program development, staffing Astronaut Office leadership as well as liaison positions including serving as spokespeople for the Agency. This could lead to disruptive crew reorganizations and/or mission delays.
What has caused this loss of NASA employees?
A lot of astronauts have simply retired without enough new astronauts joining the space agency to take their place.
The report further stated that the astronaut corps is projected to fall below its targeted size in fiscal years 2022 and 2023 and that its size would exactly equal the number of flight manifest seats NASA will need in 2022. Last month, however, the agency announced a new round of astronaut candidates which means it very well may be on its way to staffing its missions effectively. We wish them luck!