Committee to NASA: Train More Astronauts

NASA has already lost dozens of astronauts and needs to take action to make sure it has enough trained personnel to keep the International Space Station fully staffed, a National Research Council panel of experts recommended on Wednesday.

The astronaut corps has shrunk from nearly 150 members in 1999 to 61 in 2011, according to the report by NRC's Committee on Human Spaceflight Crew Operations. Many have retired and have not been replaced as the space shuttle program wound down and as the needs of the International Space Station changed from building it to operating it.

“In the half century since the flight of Yuri Gagarin, more than 500 humans have orbited Earth or traveled to the Moon,” the report reads. “Approximately 61 percent have been Americans.”

But NASA is not adequately planning for future needs, said the panel. “For human exploration and operations beyond low Earth orbit, the ISS task and skill set will need to be augmented by training for planetary surface operations, mission-specific operations and landing requirements, and science operations,” the report reads.

"Viewed as a supply chain, astronaut selection and training is very sensitive to critical shortfalls; astronauts who are trained for specific roles and missions can't be easily interchanged," said committee chairman Frederick Gregory, who commanded three shuttle missions and formerly was NASA's deputy administrator.

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