In the wake of the recent departure of astronaut Garrett Reisman from NASA to work for SpaceX, the necessity of the National Academies review, started this past December, to determine the of the number of astronauts that NASA needs should be called into question. Reisman is but one of many space fliers that have left NASA within the past year in what some might describe as a mass exodus from the nation’s astronaut corps.
The veteran astronauts that have left NASA recently include Dom Gorie, Marsha Ivens, Jose Hernandez and Alan Poindexter. NASA has lost an astronaut at the rate of approximately one every two months. Many have left after the crew of the final shuttle mission, STS-135, was announced. While plans for new rockets and spacecraft are on the drawing boards, it may be some time before NASA is launching anyone into space.
Astronauts, by their nature, tend to be type “A” personalities, those that thrive on a challenging work environment. It is for this reason that many are probably leaving the space agency, for career tracks that are both more satisfying intellectually as well as being more lucrative.
Currently, NASA has a number of different proposals of what should follow the shuttle program, which is set to end this June when the shuttle Atlantis touches down for its final “wheelstop.” After that, the U.S. will become dependent on Russia for transportation to the International Space Station (ISS). This places NASA in an uncomfortable, if all-too familiar position, as it has had to rely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft after the Columbia disaster in 2003. Russia has recently announced that seats aboard its Soyuz spacecraft will increase; it will now cost the United States $56 million each.
Reisman is a three-time shuttle veteran, he flew up to the ISS twice, on STS-123 and STS-132 and once down on STS-124. He will join SpaceX as a senior engineer toward astronaut safety and assurance. For their part, SpaceX is thrilled to be gaining highly-skilled workers like Reisman.
“We’re excited about the great team that we are building. Our talent is the key to our success. Garrett’s experience designing and using spaceflight hardware will be invaluable as we prepare the spacecraft that will carry the next generation of explorers,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and Chief Technology Officer.
In the final analysis this is speculattion. At some point, the amount of astronauts that leave the agency could level off leaving the agency with a consistent number. Also, when the agency again finds itself in the business of launching men and women into orbit and beyond it can begin looking for new astronaut candidates. The only problem with this is that if we need more astronauts – we will have to wait for them to complete the required training. While some might say this is guessing, so too is the precepts of the National Academies Review. Until NASA forges through this tumultuous time in its history the review’s findings will be inaccurate at best.
The fact is no one knows what the “future” NASA will look like. The mission objectives of the agency just a little over a year ago were wildly different than what they are today. Until the agency has a long-term mission statement, whatever conclusion the National Academies review comes up with – is academic.