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Only 61 NASA Astronauts Left, More Needed Report Says

"If we throw [the astronaut corps] away now . . . we'd say on the ground forever."

If you remember the photos taken by Neil DeCosta a couple months ago depicting astronaut suicide's, it was implied that after NASA discontinued its human flight program earlier this year that astronauts would have nothing to live for -- nothing to do. But a recent a report from the National Research Council says this isn't the case: we need astronauts now more than ever.

Fox News has more:

Over the years, the number of astronauts employed by NASA has clearly been downgraded — from about 150 in 1999 to 61 in 2011. And after several meetings with NASA representatives, former shuttle pilots and mission specialists, and representatives from private space companies, the NRC warns that 61 astronauts may not be enough.

We need new astronauts more than ever, it argues.

“The shuttle program was only one requirement for astronauts,” Joe Rothenberg, one of the co-chairs for the report, told FoxNews.com. “The most obvious one now is to continue operating the International Space Station. We have a partnership with the Russian Federal Space Agency, the European Space Agency and the others that developed it, and we have a commitment to operate it until 2020, staffing it with qualified astronauts to do research.”

In addition to maintaining the ISS, the report listed other jobs for which astronauts are needed, including the development of the next generation of human space flight vehicles. Whether it be for NASA’s Orion Space Capsule or commercial space flight vehicles developed by private companies like SpaceX, astronauts will need to be involved in both the development and operation of these vehicles.

Drafters of the NRC report met with NASA and other space agencies to determine a minimum number of astronauts needed to continue supporting NASA's program. According to Fox News, NASA found the report "helpful."

Rothenberg told Fox News that the size of the astronaut corps now isn't large enough to account for personal accidents, etc., that could prevent astronauts from serving. It takes up to two an a half years to train an astronaut. The infrastructure developed for training astronauts and the investment of having extra astronauts trained is worth maintaining according to Rosenberg. “If we throw [the astronaut corps] away now, the cost would be so prohibitive, we’d stay on the ground forever.”

One last thing…
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