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NASA has vacancies for astronauts

Despite the end of the space shuttle program, NASA needs to hire more astronauts to maintain its presence on the international space station and prepare for the next generation of spaceflight, concludes a new report. Brian Vastag reports.

world Updated: Sep 09, 2011 01:30 IST

Despite the end of the space shuttle program, NASA needs to hire more astronauts to maintain its presence on the international space station and prepare for the next generation of spaceflight, concludes a new report.

NASA employs 59 astronauts, down from 150 a decade ago, and observers expect the agency to lose another half-dozen before the end of the year.

The report warns that “the Astronaut Corps appears to be sized below the minimum required” and that the current corps size “poses a risk to the US investment in human spaceflight capabilities.”

NASA commissioned the report from the National Research Council, part of the National Academy of Sciences, to examine the agency’s astronaut and astronaut-training needs in the post-shuttle era.

It does not recommend a specific number of astronauts but says that the extensive training required, non-spaceflight tasks and the medical demands of long tours of duty on the space station could lead to astronaut shortages within five years.

In January, for example, the astronaut office at Johnson Space Center in Houston needed to choose two crew members for future space station missions. Of the 63 on the roster, only six were medically qualified and available.

“New astronauts are needed in the pipeline,” said Wayne Hale, a former space shuttle launch director who reviewed the report. “It takes quite a while to train people for human spaceflight.”

NASA expects to send four to six astronauts to the space station each year for six-month rotations. But the crash of a Russian re-supply rocket last month has grounded the Soyuz, the only vehicle capable of flying crew members to the station.