NASA’s stable of spacefarers is looking a bit light.
NASA is currently in the process of organizing the Artemis Mission, the first major effort to put living people on the surface of the Moon since the Apollo 17 landing in 1972. They’re hoping to conduct this mission as early as 2024, but according to some new documentation from the Office of Investigator General, there’s one rather decisive factor that could hamper the process: a lack of astronauts.
“After reaching its peak of nearly 150 astronauts in 2000, the size of the corps has 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,” NASA investigative officials wrote in the report. “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.”
NASA’s only gig lately has been launching astronauts up to the ISS, and they don’t even use their own vessels for that, opting instead for SpaceX or Soyuz crafts. Many of NASA’s current astronauts are only trained for life aboard the ISS, and they’re going to need a lot of people ready and eager to touch down on the Moon to make the Artemis Mission happen. In addition to more people, they’ll also need to start developing more diverse training programs to ensure every aspect of the mission has a human hand guiding it.
— SPACE.com (@SPACEdotcom) January 12, 2022
“With a corps aligned to a single mission, as it is now with the ISS [International Space Station], the Astronaut Office is in a position to quickly reassign astronauts because all 44 have been selected and initially trained for the same mission,” officials wrote in the report. “However, as the agency undertakes new missions with new requirements and new vehicles, fewer astronauts will be trained and available for each mission.”
If NASA can’t get more astronauts on staff and get them Moon-ready, there’s a good chance they could miss their projections for the Artemis Mission.