The committee’s task charges it with addressing how the role and size of the activities that are managed by the Johnson Space Center Flight Crew Operations Directorate (FCOD) should change after space shuttle retirement and completion of the assembly of the International Space Station (Figure 2.1). NASA’s Flight Crew Operations Directorate and the Astronaut Office are undergoing a major transition as the Space Shuttle program ends and focus shifts to operations on the International Space Station (ISS). The question of the role of FCOD (and its Astronaut Office) and the activities that it executes are directly related to the requirement for astronauts, that is, the size of the Astronaut Corps.1 Although the shuttle is now retired, new spacecraft will be selected to provide ISS support, and the agency is evaluating possible missions beyond low Earth orbit. This chapter addresses the current size of the Astronaut Corps, ISS training requirements, the requirements for supporting new missions, and how these requirements will affect the size of the Astronaut Corps.
NASA’s strategic requirements for human spaceflight are dominated by the International Space Station. The agency currently plans to operate the ISS until at least 2020, and this suggests that astronauts must be trained to operate the ISS and its systems safely for at least the next decade while new systems, such as commercial robotic resupply and transport, are incorporated.
NASA conducts extensive training of its astronauts before they are approved to fly on a mission. The current
1 The size of the Astronaut Office has been the topic of several previous NASA internal studies. A 1993 report by NASA reached several conclusions regarding the NASA Astronaut Corps. The number of astronauts in the corps had increased to 104 in 1992 because of longer, more involved shuttle missions. In response to an audit of flight crew training at Johnson Space Center (JSC), the report found that JSC had appropriately responded to recommendations by increasing the number of training instructors and upgrading the Shuttle Mission Training Facility. The personnel and shuttle facilities were deemed sufficient to meet the current flight rate. A 2003 report by the NASA Office of the Inspector General examined the size and utilization of the Astronaut Corps. The report found that several issues in the astronaut selection process contributed to unnecessarily high costs of astronaut training and that the training was not being used appropriately relative to the expense incurred. The report recommended that NASA establish formal guidelines for the astronaut candidate selection process and determine a more realistic assessment of the necessary size of the Astronaut Corps while documenting any reason for deviating from the assessment. U.S. General Accounting Office, Results of General Accounting Office Survey of NASA Astronaut Utilization, NSIAD-93-114R, January 12, 1993, Washington, D.C.; NASA Office of the Inspector General, Improving Management of the Astronaut Corps, G-01-035, June 27, 2003, Washington, D.C.
FIGURE 2.1 Sunrise over Earth and the International Space Station. SOURCE: Courtesy of NASA.
Astronaut Office management presented a comprehensive briefing to the committee on its current mission. At a top level, the current Astronaut Office mission statement is to support five tasks:
1. Provide well-trained spaceflight operators to support the NASA flight manifest.
2. Provide ground support personnel for unique tasks required to support the NASA flight manifest.
3. Provide support for new program development. This ranges from development of relatively small payloads and equipment to new spacecraft designs.
4. Provide support for public and educational outreach to our society.
5. Provide for collaboration with other government and private organizations as needed.
Although NASA did not present this list in priority order, the committee believes that the first task, providing well-trained spaceflight operators to support the NASA flight manifest, is clearly the Astronaut Office’s top priority, and the remaining tasks are at least in rough priority order. The committee identified a sixth task: Provide operational knowledge and corporate memory of human spaceflight.2 The committee concluded that the Astronaut Office already provides this operational knowledge and corporate memory of human spaceflight. For example, senior astronauts train new astronauts, and astronauts who have finished flying space missions often transition to management positions in the agency and take their knowledge with them. NASA has frequently used astronauts in senior leadership positions where they run major programs and even centers. With the transition to commercial crew operations, the committee concluded that it was important to make this role of the Astronaut Office explicit, not merely implicit.
2 In Finding 2.1a, the committee has listed NASA’s five tasks plus the sixth, added by the committee, in the priority order established by the committee, which places public outreach and education sixth on the list.
FIGURE 2.2 The Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle, or ATV (left), and the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle, or HTV (right), orbiting Earth. SOURCE: Courtesy of NASA.
Although the retirement of the space shuttle has reduced some of the training requirements for NASA astronauts, the operation of the ISS has imposed many complicated new ones, such as the requirement for Russian language proficiency. Astronauts are now required to be familiar not only with the U.S. equipment aboard the ISS but European, Japanese, and Russian station modules and equipment. They are also required to be knowledgeable about the Soyuz spacecraft and the Progress, Japanese HTV, and European ATV robotic resupply spacecraft (Figure 2.2). They must be proficient in using space station software, conducting extravehicular activities, operating the space station’s robotic arm, and numerous other tasks. Furthermore, astronauts are no longer trained for focused, limited duration missions with clearly defined skill sets (as they were with the shuttle) but instead are required to have the knowledge and skills to live in space for a long duration, respond to an eventuality that may arise (and fix it there rather than return to Earth), and conduct a large array of science experiments.
Since 2009, there has been considerable debate and disagreement between Congress and the White House about the future direction of the U.S. human spaceflight program. There is no clear plan to send U.S. astronauts beyond low Earth orbit in the foreseeable future, but it remains a possibility, particularly in light of NASA’s recent announcement of its intention to develop a Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle for the follow-on exploration of space.
In many ways, crew roles, tasks, and skills for human exploration are the same as those currently required for the ISS and Soyuz operations: long-duration spaceflight, on-orbit crew stay; ascent and entry; rendezvous and docking; undocking and de-orbit; maintenance and repair; robotics operations; EVA operations; and scientific research and payload operations. 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. Although the specific missions have not been approved, the potential mission set includes the Moon, Mars, near-Earth asteroids, and spacecraft servicing.
NASA is also planning to use commercially procured crew transfer services for the ISS, which may or may not involve use of NASA astronauts for operations. However, even if the NASA astronauts are not used to pilot the commercial vehicles, the committee believes that NASA’s Astronaut Corps will be involved in various aspects of development and certification of commercial service provider pilots to provide an oversight role and to ensure safety.
NASA’s Astronaut Corps of active, flight-eligible astronauts is managed by the Astronaut Office, an organization in Johnson Space Center’s Flight Crew Operations Directorate. FCOD manages both the Astronaut Office and aircraft operations and training at Ellington Field several miles north of the Johnson Space Center. FCOD manag-
ers determine the staffing size of the Astronaut Corps to meet expected U.S. on-orbit segment crew requirements aboard the International Space Station.
NASA has experienced considerable attrition concurrent with the shuttle’s final missions and retirement. Although historical attrition during the Apollo-to-shuttle transition is a poor predictor of future turnover (no flight program beyond the ISS that might retain members of the Astronaut Corps after shuttle retirement is being readied), the size of the Astronaut Corps has now reached the level that it had shortly before the shuttle began flying: it has shrunk by more than 50 percent since 2000, and is expected to shrink further (see Figures 2.3 and 2.4).
Crew member physical size further constrains the flexibility to assign astronauts to fly to the ISS at least until an alternative to Soyuz is developed. The Soyuz has constrained NASA astronaut crew assignments since the beginning of the Shuttle-Mir program in 1995 (some astronauts are too large and others are too small, although modifications to the Soyuz have eased these restrictions). Selected and trained astronauts were still able to fly on the space shuttle to support either the ISS or the shuttle. With termination of the Space Shuttle program, these astronauts have no future flight opportunities and have left or are in the process of leaving the Astronaut Office. That has affected the FCOD models for mix of experienced versus new astronauts and the expected attrition rates and has adversely affected career astronauts who were selected expressly for ISS duty when Soyuz size was not a selection criterion.
As of June 2011, the Astronaut Corps had 61 members, and an additional 9 astronaut candidates selected in 2009 were in training. The corps comprises well-trained spaceflight operators who were hired to crew the space shuttle, the ISS, and Soyuz spacecraft. They are able to conduct flight operations, orbital rendezvous and docking, and scientific research in orbit. Astronauts also perform ground support for spaceflight operations.
FIGURE 2.3 Historic Astronaut Corps population. SOURCE: NASA Astronaut Office, “Ensuring the Readiness of the Astronaut Corps: A White Paper,” NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tex., March 25, 2011.
FIGURE 2.4 Recent Astronaut Corps population. SOURCE: NASA Astronaut Office, “Ensuring the Readiness of the Astronaut Corps: A White Paper,” NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tex., March 25, 2011.
Astronauts are skilled in evaluation, testing, and development of new vehicle designs, spaceflight hardware, and operations techniques. They also perform educational and outreach duties and collaborate with NASA directorates and other government organizations. The committee notes that the Astronaut Office provides operational knowledge and corporate memory of human spaceflight.
The Astronaut Office is organized into 10 branches and is led by a chief astronaut and a deputy (Figure 2.5).
FIGURE 2.5 Astronaut Office organization, as of March 8, 2011. CS, civil servant. SOURCE: NASA Astronaut Office, “Ensuring the Readiness of the Astronaut Corps: A White Paper,” NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tex., March 25, 2011.
Nine are directly related to flight support (Capcom, Safety, EVA, Robotics, Exploration, Station, Station Ops, Shuttle, and Soyuz). There are additional support groups that do not have astronauts (Education/Medical, Appearances Office, Admin Support, and IT Support) and other reporting units (Assigned Crews, Detached/Collateral Personnel, and Astronaut Candidates). The Shuttle branch will be dis-established now that the STS-135 mission is completed.
At any given time, a majority of the astronauts in the corps are not assigned to flight. However, they do provide essential support for current and future missions and needs. (See Figures 2.6 and 2.7.)
Some of the support roles are also filled by “management astronauts.” These are former astronauts who are
FIGURE 2.6 Current astronaut roles, as of March 8, 2011. SOURCE: NASA Astronaut Office, “Ensuring the Readiness of the Astronaut Corps: A White Paper,” NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tex., March 25, 2011.
FIGURE 2.7 Unassigned astronaut time distribution. Flying hour requirements are lower for astronauts who are assigned to a mission. SOURCE: NASA Astronaut Office, “Ensuring the Readiness of the Astronaut Corps: A White Paper,” NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tex., March 25, 2011.
FIGURE 2.8 Current management astronaut roles. SOURCE: NASA Astronaut Office, “Ensuring the Readiness of the Astronaut Corps: A White Paper,” NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tex., March 25, 2011.
no longer eligible for flight assignment and who do not use NASA aircraft or other training facilities except as instructors (see Figure 2.8).
NASA furnishes 4-6 astronauts annually to fly on the ISS; each astronaut flies a 6-month expedition. Soyuz transports are used for launch and entry and as an emergency escape vehicle at the station (Figure 2.9).
FIGURE 2.9 The Soyuz TMA-12 prepares to dock at the International Space Station on April 10, 2008. SOURCE: Courtesy of NASA.
FIGURE 2.10 A NASA astronaut participates in a spacewalk training session in the Partial Gravity Simulator test area in the Space Vehicle Mock-Up Facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. SOURCE: Courtesy of NASA/Jack Pfaller.
Soyuz training requirements have gained additional prominence with the shuttle’s retirement. At present, all ISS crew exchanges occur via Soyuz, and U.S. astronauts must perform Soyuz duties competently as part of the three-person crew. A Russian cosmonaut always serves as the Soyuz commander, and NASA astronauts fill the role of flight engineer (essentially as co-pilot). With the exception of simple familiarization training classes in Houston, astronauts travel to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (also known as Star City) near Moscow for all Soyuz training. Soyuz classroom, mockup, and simulator training require substantial additional time, as do language training and travel logistics.
In addition to their own expedition training, members of the Astronaut Corps in Houston support ISS operations. They act as crew support for their colleagues in orbit and as capsule communicators in mission control. Astronauts also develop and validate extravehicular activity, robotics, and emergency procedures for use aboard the ISS; act as instructor astronauts; perform hardware fit checks; review training for ISS experiments; monitor cargo orbital transportation services; support international cargo vehicle operations; and take part in the development of NASA and commercial crew exploration vehicles (Figure 2.10).
It takes a minimum of 3 years to train and fly an astronaut for an ISS mission as opposed to 1 year to train and fly a shuttle astronaut. Variables for flight assignment include suitability for EVA and robotics, Russian language aptitude, and long-duration medical standards. Russian language proficiency is a major training challenge but may be somewhat relaxed when a U.S. vehicle assumes transport and emergency “lifeboat” functions at the ISS. However, intermediate Russian language proficiency will always be necessary for close work aboard the ISS with Russian cosmonauts (Figure 2.11).
FIGURE 2.11 Typical time slice of ISS international training requirements (using the six-person model and baselined flows as of December 2010). The chart demonstrates the complexity of the training schedule, including the large periods spent overseas and in language training. SOURCE: NASA Astronaut Office, “Ensuring the Readiness of the Astronaut Corps: A White Paper,” NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tex., March 25, 2011.
The training of U.S. and international crew for the ISS encompasses the following:
- Extravehicular Activities.
- Canadian Robotic Arm operations.
- ISS Systems.
- U.S. Destiny module.
- ESA Columbus module.
- Japanese Kibo module.
- JAXA visiting cargo vehicle (HTV).
- ESA visiting cargo vehicle (ATV).
- Russian visiting vehicles: Soyuz and Progress.
- Survival Training (Soyuz-centered: water and land).
- Experiment Research training.
- Language Training (Russian).
- Spaceflight readiness training (SFRT).
Those ISS training objectives are set by the International Space Station program and its international partners and are applied to all ISS participants. (Note that the training objectives are for the professional Astronaut Corps, not spaceflight participants who visit the ISS for only a few days.) ISS requirements have increased the number of U.S. and partner crew training hours, especially for the Soyuz “Flight Engineer-1, FE-1” position (left seat).
A summary of ISS training requirements is shown in Figure 2.12.
FIGURE 2.12 In the course of a 2.5-year training period, a Soyuz left seat Flight Engineer’s (FE-1) work time is divided among Soyuz/Russian training, other ISS responsibilities, travel, administrative duties, and flying requirements (generally known as Spaceflight Resource Management [SFRM] or Spaceflight Readiness Training [SFRT]). Fewer flying hours are required because this is the breakdown for an astronaut who is assigned to a mission and who therefore has less time for T-38N flights. Note that 12 percent of ISS astronaut training time is consumed by travel. SOURCE: NASA Astronaut Office, “Ensuring the Readiness of the Astronaut Corps: A White Paper,” NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tex., March 25, 2011.
The requirements for preparing and conducting spaceflight include learning and maintaining proficiency in spaceflight operations and emergency response, as well as mission-specific training. To ensure that crew requirements are addressed, the Astronaut Office requires that astronauts participate in many safety reviews (a requirement since the Challenger and Columbia accidents); participate in equipment and software design for future systems, projects, and research; evaluate human factors for new vehicles and crew equipment; and certify new crew procedures in high-fidelity simulators that provide appropriate realism. In addition, experienced crew members are also called on to support agencywide panels and task forces involved in strategic planning, to support the Mission Control Center during missions, and to help to communicate the wider education message to the public as dictated in the 1958 Space Act.
As NASA retires the space shuttle and begins a second decade of International Space Station operations, the skill mix that it requires of its astronauts is changing. During the shuttle era, NASA hired two specialized kinds of members of the Astronaut Corps: shuttle pilots and shuttle mission specialists. Pilots monitored and flew the shuttle during launch and landing and performed orbital maneuvering and most major vehicle operations. Mission commanders came from the pilot ranks, moving to the left seat after one or two flights as pilots. Mission specialists handled flight engineer duties, robotic operations, EVA, and major scientific operations.
In the ISS era, those specializations have disappeared, and all astronauts must be capable of a variety of duties on long-duration expeditions: EVA, robotics, science, vehicle operation, repair and maintenance, emergency response, and transport vehicle operations (Figure 2.13). Notably, ISS commanders may come from non-piloting backgrounds—and several ISS commanders were not pilots when they entered the Astronaut Corps. Commanders of future transport vehicles (as on the Russian Soyuz) will probably be required to have professional flying expe-
FIGURE 2.13 U.S. astronauts participate in an extravehicular activity above New Zealand. Conducting EVAs is one of several tasks for which astronauts train. SOURCE: Courtesy of NASA.
FIGURE 2.14 Summary of International Space Station training—astronaut candidate training through flight training. SOURCE: NASA Astronaut Office, “Ensuring the Readiness of the Astronaut Corps: A White Paper,” NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tex., March 25, 2011.
rience or other equivalent experience, such as spaceflight. In the past, the Russians have required either military piloting experience or spaceflight experience for all their Soyuz commanders.
The new roles are reflected in current selection criteria for astronaut candidates. Potential astronaut hires undergo a 2-week interview and medical testing session (versus 1 week for shuttle hires). Candidates must meet long-duration flight physical standards. All potential members of the Astronaut Corps must show aptitude for robotics, science, EVA tasks, and Russian language.
Candidates must also meet the physical size constraints for the Soyuz spacecraft. During the ISS program (and earlier during NASA involvement in the Russian Mir program), a number of astronauts were disqualified for ISS expeditions because they did not meet the Soyuz vehicle seat-size restrictions. Future NASA and commercial vehicles may accommodate a broader size range of astronauts.
ASCAN Training Flow
Astronaut candidates are selected from various professions, including engineering, science, education, and aviation. According to the NASA Astronaut Office, ISS training requires that each crew member have a broad and extensive skill base because there is always some uncertainty as to what tasks will be required. The skills can include payloads, robotics, EVA, and in-flight maintenance. The majority of training is skills-based; however, some critical operations still have a task-based element, such as emergency response. Astronauts from NASA, CSA, ESA, and JAXA train to equivalent levels on U.S. systems, whereas Russian Space Agency cosmonauts are only
FIGURE 2.15 NASA astronauts train in the virtual reality simulator at the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. SOURCE: Courtesy of NASA/Jack Pfaller.
minimally proficient on U.S. systems. All are equally trained in emergency response. Astronauts can expect to do 30-40 percent of their training on international components from Russia, Japan, Canada, and Europe.
International agreements are required for training flows and are led by NASA. Training flows are in four main categories: ASCAN or Basic Training, Pre-Assignment Training, Assigned Crew Training, and On-Orbit Training, all together lasting 5 to 6 years, according to the NASA Astronaut Office. Training is not provided between flight assignments. Astronauts are evaluated before beginning a second flight assignment to test for knowledge and skill retention, after which appropriate refresher courses are given.
ASCAN training comprises four required flows: Inexperienced Operator for ISS Systems, EVA, Generic Robotics Training (GRT), and Russian language proficiency.
Included in the 1.5 to 2 years of ASCAN training are various assessments and evaluations (Figure 2.14). During Pre-Assignment Training, crew members undergo an assessment of aptitude. There are four more pre-assignment training requirements that require 6 months to 1 year to complete: a Russian language intermediate-level proficiency; the U.S. operational segment of EVA; expeditionary training; and robotics, if available.
For Assigned Crew Training, two training flows are available and are based on the astronaut’s experience; they generally take 2.5 years to complete. Finally, On-Board Training is given once in orbit and can include a variety of instruction from proficiency and refreshers to unexpected crew tasks. The station training lead on the training team will ultimately decide the training on the basis of crew experience and input from Mission Control Center.3
3 If it appears that a crew member needs some proficiency (such as EVA or remote manipulator or docking) or may even be in the best position to train on something new (such as a newly arrived experiment), that is decided on the ground and then discussed with the commander and the rest of the crew. It is important to note that “training” includes three groups: the crew, the mission control team, and the “training team.” The training team is a professional group that acts independently to train the crew and assess their performance, as occurs in other hazardous work, including that of airline and military pilots and submariners. The training function is managed by NASA but is often contracted out to a vendor, such as United Space Alliance.
Astronaut training takes place in a variety of locations. ASCAN training includes classroom activity, site visits, field training, and time in the Space Station Mockup Facility, the Space Station Training Facility, the Dynamic Skills trainer, the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, and the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility (Figure 2.15). A few locations are added for the Pre-Flight Assessment, such as the Canadian Space Agency classroom, the NOAA Aquarius Habitat, and remote outdoor locations.
Once a member of the Astronaut Corps has reached ISS training, he or she will spend several weeks at various international training facilities in addition to the U.S. training facilities. For example, a Soyuz right seat Flight Engineer-2 astronaut can expect to spend 49 weeks at U.S. facilities, 2 weeks in Europe, 31 weeks in Russia, 7 weeks in Japan, and 2 weeks in Canada. (The Soyuz Flight Engineer-1 position is essentially equivalent to co-pilot. It is more demanding and requires more training than the Soyuz Flight Engineer-2 position.)
Recent developments in commercial spaceflight will require that astronauts learn to operate another new vehicle—possibly more than one—and probably be involved in the development of its displays, habitability, and human factors. Astronaut support and training requirements for these vehicles are currently unknown.
In addition, the agency is embarking on an extensive technology development review for exploration (involving 14 roadmaps). This could result in increased investment in new spacesuit technology, new vehicle designs, surface habitats, and crew-operated rovers. All those technology projects will require corporate knowledge transfer and human factor requirements support from the Astronaut Office.4
Crews train for longer periods than ever before. Maximum training time for shuttle/Spacelab was about 18 months. ISS training flows can exceed 2.5 years. The Astronaut Office has worked with the international partners to optimize the training hours and length of training as far as possible without adversely affecting mission success and safety. These requirements are captured in formal agreements at the NASA Headquarters level. Before the ISS, assigned crew could also support other Astronaut Office activities until launch minus 6 months (such as design reviews and safety reviews). That support is no longer possible given the ISS international travel requirements, so the Astronaut Office’s ability to support other required flight crew activities is limited further.
With the retirement of the space shuttle, training requirements for crew assigned to the ISS have increased because of the additional travel and language requirements that are placed on the astronauts. On the basis of the committee’s assessment of the historically necessary functions of the Astronaut Office and the Astronaut Corps and the future projects that they will probably be asked to undertake, the number of astronauts now available to ensure continuing ground-based operational support and to staff ISS/Soyuz crews appears to be less than required.
The support required for commercial crew vehicles and the new exploration technology development remains undefined. The difficulty of replacing an STS-133 astronaut who sustained a serious injury in a bicycle accident is an indication that the Astronaut Corps is severely strained. The only qualified replacement available was the chief of the Astronaut Office EVA branch. That substitution had an adverse effect when the Astronaut Office was being asked concurrently to participate in a significant restructuring of the agency and to support the continuous operation of the International Space Station. The incident highlights that the Astronaut Corps is reaching a point where it lacks sufficient margin to deal with unexpected personnel situations.
The Flight Crew Operations Directorate forecasts the required size of the Astronaut Corps and the need for new hires by using an analytical model that incorporates program requirements, assignment constraints, selection rates, and attrition. The model was incorporated in approximately 2004 and constituted an attempt to apply a more rigorous standard than previous efforts in determining the number of members of the Astronaut Corps required. FCOD
4 This is the subject of a National Research Council study, conducted by the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board at the request of NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist, which was under way at the time of the writing of this report. The report of the Committee on the NASA Technology Roadmap is expected in early 2012.
FIGURE 2.16 Crew manifest analysis. NOTE: Data were generated for last Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution in February 2010; assumes ISS ends in 2020 and two space shuttle flights in fiscal year 2010 (STS-133 and STS-134) with additional rescue flight (STS-135) trained and ready to support STS-134 if needed. SOURCE: NASA Astronaut Office, “Ensuring the Readiness of the Astronaut Corps: A White Paper,” NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tex., March 25, 2011.
performs the analysis annually as part of its budgeting exercise. The model output is termed the Minimum Manifest Requirement and is calculated from spaceflight program requirements and the 5-year assignment rotation plan.
In the first step, the model sums the number of astronauts in post-flight reconditioning, the number on orbit, and the number of astronauts projected to be needed in space over the next 5 years. The output is the crew manifest analysis, showing the number of astronauts needed by year (Figure 2.16). Note that the model is driven by the manifest requirements, not by the other tasks that astronauts perform, such as programmatic support responsibilities.
To account for astronauts who are unavailable for assignment and to account for constraints (such as desired crew skills mix, temporary medical re-qualifications for flight, and required experience mix), FCOD increases the crew manifest analysis by a factor of 25 percent. The adjusted output is called the Minimum Manifest Requirement (MMR) (Figures 2.17, 2.18, and 2.19).
In 2008 and 2009, the margin applied by FCOD to the model output was 50 percent. In 2010 the margin was decreased to 25 percent, apparently because of budget pressures. To match Astronaut Corps staffing to the MMR, FCOD subtracts annual attrition based on historical averages to produce the astronaut class selections required to bring corps size back to the MMR (Figure 2.18).
Although the MMR analysis was biased in 2011 by the delay in retirement of the space shuttle and by a surplus of space shuttle astronauts relative to the number needed for ISS-only operations, FCOD has confidence that its analytical model and correction factor accurately predict the required Astronaut Corps size.
An important uncertainty is medical: long-duration flight criteria are stringent, and a medical condition
FIGURE 2.17 Minimum Manifest Requirement formula. SOURCE: NASA Astronaut Office, “Ensuring the Readiness of the Astronaut Corps: A White Paper,” NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tex., March 25, 2011.
FIGURE 2.18 The crew manifest analysis with the Minimum Manifest Requirement. NOTE: Data were generated for last Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution in February 2010; assumes ISS ends in 2020 and two space shuttle flights in fiscal year 2010 (STS-133 and STS-134) with additional rescue flight (STS-135) trained and ready to support STS-134 if needed; Minimum Manifest Requirement accounts for medical, mission-required skills, attrition, detached/collateral assignments, etc. SOURCE: NASA Astronaut Office, “Ensuring the Readiness of the Astronaut Corps: A White Paper,” NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tex., March 25, 2011.
FIGURE 2.19 Crew Manifest Analysis, Minimum Manifest Requirement, and Astronaut Corps size. NOTE: Data were generated for last Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution in February 2010; assumes ISS ends in 2020 and two space shuttle flights in fiscal year 2010 (STS-133 and STS-134) with additional rescue flight (STS-135) trained and ready to support STS-134 if needed; Minimum Manifest Requirement accounts for medical, mission-required skills, attrition, detached/collateral assignments, etc. SOURCE: NASA Astronaut Office, “Ensuring the Readiness of the Astronaut Corps: A White Paper,” NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tex., March 25, 2011.
FIGURE 2.20 Medical assignment constraints. The “significant vision changes” are classified as a condition called papilledema, a swelling of the optic disk. This is a relatively new phenomenon in U.S. astronauts and is not fully understood. SOURCE: NASA Astronaut Office, “Ensuring the Readiness of the Astronaut Corps: A White Paper,” NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tex., March 25, 2011.
requiring evacuation to Earth is one of the leading risk factors for terminating an ISS expedition early. Thirteen astronauts have become medically ineligible after being assigned to a long-duration expedition but before they actually flew, and this demonstrates the uncertainties that the Astronaut Office must consider when developing the Minimum Manifest Requirement. Because of a variety of medical conditions—including vision problems, bone loss, physical injuries due to EVA, and radiation exposure—some returning astronauts cannot re-qualify for ISS missions (Figures 2.20 and 2.21).
For example, in January 2011, the Astronaut Office needed to assign two members of the Astronaut Corps to meet Expeditions 37/38 and 38/39 requirements. But of 63 Astronaut Corps members available at the time, only 6 were available for the two positions, and not all 6 could meet the more demanding Soyuz left seat Flight Engineer-1 standards.5 The Astronaut Corps must have reasonable personnel depth to ensure that it can meet on-orbit manning requirements and contingencies with trained astronauts.
Complicating the staffing analysis are such evolving factors as the advent of commercial crew flights to the ISS, a reduction of expedition length to 4 months from the current 6, and a failure to hire a new candidate class in 2012. In addition, although FCOD has calculated attrition on the basis of historical averages, the transition from combined space shuttle and ISS operations to primarily long-duration ISS flights may affect attrition in unknown ways. All those factors could lead to crew shortages within 5 years. Given the lead time for training qualified astronauts, the effects would not be rectified before 2020.
The Astronaut Office projects that it will need to hire 15 new ASCANS within the next 5 years to meet attri-
5 The Soyuz Flight Engineer-1 position has greater responsibilities and requires more training than the Soyuz Flight Engineer-2 position.
FIGURE 2.21 Medical re-assignment constraints. The projected number of safe days on the ISS due to radiation exposure is affected by the solar cycle. At solar maximum, flares and coronal mass ejections are more common. However, at solar minimum, the solar wind is weaker, and this allows more galactic cosmic rays to enter the solar system and thus reduces the number of safe days on the ISS. SOURCE: NASA Astronaut Office, “Ensuring the Readiness of the Astronaut Corps: A White Paper,” NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tex., March 25, 2011.
tion and staffing requirements. Selections are anticipated in 2012 and 2014, on the basis of the February 2010 program estimate.6 Hiring beyond 2014 will depend on whether the ISS operates beyond 2020 and on progress in future programs. FCOD managers have informed the committee that a steady infusion of small numbers of new astronaut candidates is desirable to introduce new talent, meet demand for specialized skills, and reduce the average age of the corps (the average age of the active astronauts in the corps was 47.6 years as of March 2011).
The ISS flight manifest analysis leading to projected corps size requirements must be considered a minimum. Real-world constraints—such as the need for a mission-specific skill mix, medical disqualification, unwillingness to volunteer for another long-duration expedition, and the need to match veterans with inexperienced astronauts on a given crew—dictate that corps size requirements must always exceed the manifest minimum. That is combined with an uncertain future attrition rate as the agency conducts more longer-duration ISS missions as opposed to shorter-duration shuttle missions. The committee has concluded that the current 25 percent margin will not be sufficient in the coming decade. Given the current difficulties with finding suitable ISS candidates and the likelihood of future commitments to human spaceflight development, the committee’s view is that the margin should be increased. Increasing the margin acknowledges that ISS crews require astronauts who have primary skills in engineering and piloting and those who are skilled in the scientific research disciplines corresponding to ISS onboard experiments.
6 The astronaut selection process takes about 18 months.
As the Astronaut Office considers its future staffing needs, hiring frequency, and training requirements for the next decade, its managers must take note of possible responsibilities beyond its primary mission of furnishing astronauts for the International Space Station. Such possible auxiliary missions include:
1. Providing crews for commercial crew transport vehicles on NASA missions.
2. Assisting in the training of commercial astronauts for those vehicles.
3. Providing technical, safety, and operational advice to commercial crew transport developers and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
4. Providing technical liaison and advice to NASA’s future vehicle development efforts (for example, heavy lift boosters and spacecraft for beyond Earth orbit travel).
5. Providing crews for testing future NASA vehicles.
Commercial Crew Transport to the ISS
NASA is assisting several commercial companies with funds and expertise in their development of spacecraft to carry cargo, and eventually astronauts, to the International Space Station. The two funded cargo providers are SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation, which are developing the Dragon and Cygnus vehicles, respectively. Because NASA has no government spacecraft that can perform the ISS crew transport mission, the agency anticipates that the Dragon and other spacecraft in development will provide a means to transport NASA astronauts to their ISS assignments and to emergency lifeboat craft at the ISS. Optimistically, such commercial spacecraft may replace the Soyuz in the NASA crew transport role by 2015.
In April 2011, NASA awarded additional development funding to commercial spacecraft developers Blue Origin, Boeing Corporation, SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada Corporation. The funding is intended to enable the Boeing, SpaceX, and Sierra Nevada Corporation (but not Blue Origin) spacecraft to reach a preliminary design review milestone.
Commercial Vehicle Designs
Vehicle designs proposed to date by commercial developers include two types of re-entry shape design: winged or lifting body craft and ballistic capsules. Like the space shuttle, winged or lifting body vehicles develop lift in the atmosphere from the shape of the fuselage or a blend of fuselage and wing shape. Such vehicles are designed to return to runways for landing, and although modern flight control computers are capable of landing such a craft autonomously (for example, the Air Force’s X-37B), NASA in the past has always included a pilot “in the loop” to minimize risk during the landing phase. At the moment, only Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser is a lifting body vehicle. Dream Chaser is being designed for “autoland” capability that would not require a pilot. As in space shuttle pilot training, the safe piloted landing of a winged or lifting body spacecraft requires a high degree of skill and experience. The flying pilot would train for the task and maintain proficiency, as in the Space Shuttle program, through a combination of high-performance aircraft training and simulator training.
Commercial firms have proposed ballistic capsules to serve as ISS crew transports. As in the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Soyuz programs, such vehicles generate a small amount of lift during hypersonic re-entry, enabling some trajectory and aim point adjustment. The blunt body shape creates drag for efficient deceleration from orbital velocity, followed by use of parachutes for terminal deceleration and safe touchdown on land or sea. Although the pilot in Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo could monitor and manually “fly” some portion of the re-entry, in normal operations the spacecraft descends under autopilot control. Ballistic capsules should inherently require much less training in manual flying than winged or lifting body spacecraft.
The companies competing to provide commercial crew services to NASA have not yet decided with NASA on the appropriate operations model for transporting crew to the International Space Station. Several models have an influence on NASA astronaut training requirements.
In the taxi model, commercial astronauts aboard a private spacecraft would carry NASA astronauts to the ISS under government contract. Because the ISS program requires the “taxi” to stay at the ISS for 6 months to provide emergency rescue and safe haven capability, the commercial astronauts would return to Earth aboard the previous rescue or safe haven vehicle. Training requirements would be less stringent, but NASA astronauts would still have to be trained for emergency descent and safe haven operations in case the taxi were required when the commercial astronauts were not onboard the ISS. Although the commercial pilots and crew would be thoroughly trained in all aspects of spacecraft operations, NASA astronauts may still be sought to provide technical, safety, and operational advice to commercial crew transport developers. (A variation of this approach is the harbor pilot model wherein a company pilot would primarily operate the commercial vehicle for the launch, orbital operations, and landing phases of the flight and a fully trained NASA pilot would conduct the approach to the ISS, docking, and undocking operations; in this case, NASA astronauts would still need to be trained in emergency descent and rendezvous operations.)
One limitation of the taxi model is that it is more efficient if the person who is flying to the ISS is fully trained in ISS operations and other requirements (such as Soyuz flight engineer training). Astronauts who are trained only or primarily to operate the crew transport spacecraft may not be able to contribute to the ISS mission but will still use important ISS resources. Another limitation may be that the taxi pilot will take away valuable mass and volume for resupply of and return from the ISS. If the spacecraft spends only a short time at the ISS, dropping off astronauts and picking up those who will return to Earth, the spacecraft operator will not use ISS resources, but the spacecraft cannot be used as a “lifeboat” at the station.
Rental Car Model
In the “rental car” model, the provider would conduct launch and recovery operations but NASA would operate the spacecraft in flight with NASA astronauts. NASA’s crew would thus require training in all aspects of flight operations. Because only the ISS-bound crew would journey to the ISS, this model reduces the logistical and habitation demands on the ISS. The spacecraft would remain at the station for emergency rescue and safe haven capability. The rental car model would require NASA’s astronauts to receive additional ascent and rendezvous training (in contrast with the taxi model) in addition to providing technical, safety, and operational advice to commercial crew transport developers. This is similar to the Soyuz model.
Commercial Astronaut Training
The Astronaut Office anticipates that its personnel will aid commercial firms in developing training standards and training curricula for crews of commercial crew transports. NASA may furnish such support as part of its commercial launch services agreements or in cooperation with other government agencies. In addition, the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation will be responsible for licensing commercial astronauts, and NASA will have a role in informing requirements for selection and training.
Several commercial firms and FAA have hired former NASA astronauts as managers and consultants; these experienced fliers may reduce the need for members of the Astronaut Corps to participate extensively in development of commercial training curricula, FAA regulations, and licensing standards. However, there is also the possibility that the existence of the new firms could affect the NASA Astronaut Corps attrition rate as qualified personnel are attracted to private industry, which is seeking their skills.
Commercial Vehicle Development
During the Space Shuttle program, astronauts routinely followed the payload development, modifications to the orbiter fleet, and any technical efforts that affected shuttle system safety. Similar technical liaison between the Astronaut Office and commercial vehicle developers can be expected as NASA plans for crew transport operations on the private vehicles (see Box 2.1). NASA’s astronauts may be tasked to act as liaison between companies that are building crew transports, providing operations and safety advice and keeping the agency abreast of technical progress. To preserve proprietary vendor information, NASA may need to assign a person to each of the commercial developers on a part-time basis; this would still constitute a substantial manpower commitment. The committee believes that there is a fundamental difference between having this role performed by a former NASA astronaut who is not actually to fly the spacecraft and by a current member of the Astronaut Corps who will be placing his or her life at risk in the vehicle. A current member of the Astronaut Corps, preferably with some spaceflight experience, will provide greater insight and credibility for a development vehicle that he or she will rely on in flight.
The near-term challenge for NASA is its role in ensuring the appropriate balance of “insight vs. oversight” for emerging commercial vehicles. This will of necessity be different from its role in connection with Soyuz or with a NASA vehicle development. The roles, rules, and processes are in development, including how the new commercial industry connects to the FAA role and the relationship between NASA, the FAA, and commercial industry.
As commercial crew transportation becomes available, NASA has several options for its use. They range from a commercial “taxi service” with NASA crew members ferried to and from the ISS to NASA’s leasing or purchasing vehicles for NASA crew members to operate. In all cases, crew safety is of highest priority, and emergency crew return from the ISS requires NASA crew knowledge of and experience with all aspects of any commercial vehicle. Some aspects of potential NASA crew collaboration with commercial developers presented to the committee are the following:
• Perform unplanned activities and resolve emergency situations during all phases of flight.
• Provide input and recommendations on commercial crew spacecraft and operations.
• Collaborate in development of crew interfaces.
• Participate in testing, evaluation, and fit-checks.
• Participate in development of selection and training plans.
• Assist with procedures and operations development and verification.
• Raise concerns regarding safety and adherence to requirements (such as human ratings requirements).
• Participate in NASA programmatic activities (such as boards and panels) that require crew input and expertise.
• Rendezvous, proximity operations, and docking training.
NASA is developing a heavy lift booster and beyond Earth orbit-capable spacecraft. Termed the Space Launch System (SLS) and Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), respectively, these two systems are designed to enable the United States to conduct missions to the vicinity of the Moon, Lagrange points, near-Earth asteroids, and eventually the Mars planetary system.
As those efforts grow in scope and maturity, the Astronaut Corps will play an increasingly active role in their development and maturation. By 2015, at least a half-dozen members of the Astronaut Corps will be needed to follow and advise at the field center and program level.
During initial testing, the SLS and MPCV may be used to transport crew and cargo to and from the ISS, moving on to system demonstration first in high Earth orbit and then operationally throughout the Earth-Moon system. Lunar orbit sorties may be followed by Lagrange point expeditions, beyond Earth orbit assembly and servicing tasks, and eventual expeditions to near-Earth asteroids. Mission durations will range from a few weeks initially to multimonth asteroid expeditions.
To prepare for such ambitious operations (the first in nearly 50 years of beyond Earth orbit), active astronauts
BOX 2.1 Commercial Crew and Cargo Programs and Development—NASA and Non-NASA
To develop the next set of launch vehicles, capsules, and launch services after the end of the Space Shuttle program, NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO) has set up multiple contracts with aerospace companies based on design and performance milestones. NASA is using $500 million in Space Act Agreements for commercial cargo transportation and $50 million for the first round of commercial crew development agreements to fund these companies. NASA first began funding companies to provide resupply services to the International Space Station under its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) and committed $269.3 million for its second round of Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) contracts awarded on April 18, 2010.
The following companies have received COTS and/or CCDev Space Act Agreements from NASA to develop spacecraft. This section focuses only on major hardware developments, not on Space Act Agreements for components of launch vehicle or cargo/crew capsule systems.
• Blue Origin is developing its New Shepard vehicle, a vertical take-off/landing vehicle designed to take humans on sub-orbital spaceflights, under both the CCDev 1 and 2 awards. On May 13, 2006, Blue Origin successfully test fired the Goddard vehicle, which reached a maximum altitude of 235 feet and landed safely within 50 seconds. Goddard is the precursor vehicle to the New Shepard. The New Shepard will be able to house both experiment racks for microgravity or other types of research and astronauts simultaneously. According to the company, “three or more positions” can be used by experiment racks or astronauts. Blue Origin expects to have its first opportunities for experiments that require the accompaniment of a researcher astronaut to be available in 2012.
• Boeing received CCDev 1 and 2 awards from NASA to develop its Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 capsule, which will be able to carry seven astronauts to the ISS and the Bigelow Aerospace Orbital Space Complex. The CST-100 will be able to launch atop the Atlas, Delta, and Falcon 9 rockets and potentially other launch vehicles. The capsule will be able to operate autonomously for 48 hours while on orbit and take 6 hours to land (nominally on land, but water-landing contingency is possible) after undocking of the orbital platform. Boeing has already developed the pressurized structure and a crew module mockup as of February 2011. Boeing emphasizes the use of “heritage hardware” in the CST-100’s design, including an Apollo-heritage parachute system, an abort system that uses existing components, and an airbag landing system from the Crew Exploration Vehicle/Orion. (See Figure 2.1.1.)
FIGURE 2.1.1 The Boeing CST-100 capsule. SOURCE: Courtesy of the Boeing Company.
• Orbital Sciences Corporation (Orbital) is developing the Taurus II launch vehicle and Cygnus capsule for transporting cargo from Earth to the ISS, as well as disposing of space station waste. Orbital is contracted to deliver 20,000 kg of cargo to the ISS over the course of eight missions between 2011 and 2015. The Cygnus capsule is a pressurized cargo module, similar to the Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules already flown to the ISS. However, Cygnus is not designed to survive reentry of Earth’s atmosphere, and will not be used to transport material from the ISS back to Earth. (See Figure 2.1.2.)
FIGURE 2.1.2 The Cygnus Advanced Maneuvering Spacecraft pictured with the International Space Station. SOURCE: Courtesy of Orbital Sciences Corporation.
• Sierra Nevada Corporation is developing the Dream Chaser, a fully reusable spacecraft based on the design of NASA’s HL-20 lifting body vehicle, under CCDev 1 and 2 awards. The Dream Chaser is designed to launch atop the Atlas V launch vehicle and will return to Earth via conventional runway landing, which will allow it to bring materials back to Earth from the ISS. It will be capable of carrying seven astronauts and cargo to the ISS. The Dream Chaser is being designed so that each craft can be used for 50 to 100 missions. The company plans on placing a Dream Chaser into orbit by 2014 (Figure 2.1.3).
FIGURE 2.1.3 The Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser lifting body shown traveling in space. SOURCE: Courtesy of Sierra Nevada Corporation.
• Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is developing its Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon capsule, which it will use to transport cargo to the ISS under its COTS agreement with NASA. Like Orbital Sciences Corporation, SpaceX is contracted to deliver 20,000 kg of cargo to the ISS over at least 12 missions with the option to order additional flights. The Dragon capsule is designed to survive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere and will be used for transporting materials back to Earth. On December 8, 2010, SpaceX successfully launched
a Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule. The Dragon capsule orbited Earth, survived re-entry, and was retrieved without incident. Dragon is designed to carry up to 6,000 kg to low Earth orbit (LEO) and 3,000 kg from the ISS back to Earth. The Dragon is for dual cargo/crew use and can accommodate seven passengers in its crew configuration. SpaceX received both CCDev 1 and 2 awards to launch astronauts to the ISS. In addition to the Falcon 9, which can launch up to almost 10,000 kg to LEO, SpaceX announced in April 2011 that it is beginning development of its Falcon Heavy launch vehicle, which will be able to launch payloads weighing over 53 metric tons to LEO, including interplanetary spacecraft. SpaceX cargo resupply missions to the ISS are slated to begin in 2012 (Figure 2.1.4).
FIGURE 2.1.4 The Dragon spacecraft in orbit. SOURCE: Courtesy of Space Exploration Technologies.
The following companies do not have Space Act Agreements with NASA but are developing hardware on a scale comparable with that previously listed under NASA COTS or CCDev development:
• Bigelow Aerospace (Bigelow) is developing an orbital space station complex that will combine its BA 330 and Sundancer inflatable modules into a single orbiting platform. The BA 330 inflatable space station module,
will assume a major role in development and flight testing, which will lead to a substantial technical and training commitment in addition to ISS crew expeditions. Initial astronaut advice on operations and cockpit and cabin design will be followed by integral involvement by members of the Astronaut Corps in ground system testing and then a series of crewed test flights.
By 2020 or 2025, according to present NASA planning, a sizable portion of the Astronaut Corps will be involved in preparations for beyond-Earth-orbit expeditions, including extensive field exploration on the surfaces of asteroids or the lunar surface. The possible missions include:
• Lunar orbit demonstration and survey.
• Geosynchronous satellite servicing.
• Hardware assembly at Earth-Moon Lagrange points.
• Servicing and assembly missions to Sun-Earth Lagrange point L2.
• Near-Earth asteroid expeditions.
Experience gained from those missions would enable eventual exploration of the martian moons and eventual expeditions to the surface of Mars. Astronauts will be required to demonstrate skills in ascent, entry, and rendez-
which will be able to house up to six astronauts in its 330 m3 of space on an undefined long-term basis, will be serviceable by the Boeing CST-100. Before the launch of the BA 330, Bigelow will launch the smaller Sundancer inflatable module into LEO in 2014. Sundancer will be able to accommodate up to three astronauts on a long-term basis, and as many as six for short-term visits. Sundancer will have an internal volume of 180 m3.
• Lockheed Martin is developing the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle, which will serve as the reference design for NASA’s multi-purpose crew vehicle (MPCV), which NASA is working on at Johnson Space Center. In particular, NASA is ensuring that the MPCV requirements are of the same scope as the ones that Lockheed Martin is using on Orion. Orion will be able to carry four astronauts to the Moon or six astronauts to the ISS and can sustain a crew mission independent of the ISS for 21.1 days. Lockheed Martin is also developing an Orion spacecraft and space operations simulation center at its Denver facilities. According to Lockheed Martin, the Orion vehicle is on schedule to conduct its first orbital flight test in 2013 and to provide initial operational flights by 2016 (Figure 2.1.5).
FIGURE 2.1.5 Artist’s rendering of the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle in space. SOURCE: Courtesy of NASA.
vous piloting; docking operations; proximity operations around large space structures or asteroids; and descent to lunar and asteroid surfaces, as well as Mars.
The FCOD’s Strategic Plan7 responds to possible future needs by citing the following organizational objectives:
• Maintain adequate numbers of crew members with appropriate skills available to support all U.S. human spaceflight activities.
• Support advanced human spaceflight program development.
• Provide crew members for staff-critical program activities.
Given the dynamic environment, NASA crew task and skill requirements will not decrease in the foreseeable future. That is especially valid as NASA crews need to be prepared to conduct spaceflight operations during all phases, including unplanned and emergency situations. In particular, to fulfill its role of protecting the ISS as a valuable asset and ensuring safe operations, NASA will retain the responsibility for setting standards for procedures, training, and equipment for all docking and undocking operations.
7 NASA, Johnson Space Center Flight Crew Operations Strategic Plan, September 2006, NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Tex., p. 12.
As it examined the current status of the Flight Crew Operations Directorate and its Astronaut Office, the committee was impressed by the challenges of providing complex training for an Astronaut Corps that must both support long missions to the ISS and travel extensively to the facilities operated by the international partners. The committee was also impressed by the quality and professionalism of the Astronaut Corps and its management by the Astronaut Office. The committee noted that the Astronaut Corps is already experiencing the strains of downsizing and may have reached the minimum number of astronauts required to support current ISS commitments. The uncertainty imposed by the transition from shuttle to the ISS, such as the inability to predict attrition rates, makes it more difficult to predict how many members of the Astronaut Corps NASA will require. The committee concluded that the best way to navigate the transition was for the Astronaut Office to maintain its existing Astronaut Corps staffing model but to increase its margin from the current 25 percent.
The committee concluded that the Flight Crew Operations Directorate and its Astronaut Office currently support six tasks and should continue to do so. The most important is providing well-trained members of the Astronaut Corps to support the NASA flight manifest. The NASA Astronaut Corps is a resource, developed and refined over the last half-century, that is crucial for current U.S. space capabilities and for the commercial, national, and international future of the United States in space. Consequently, it is even more important in time of transition and uncertainty that the talent level, diversity, and capabilities of the Astronaut Office be sustained at the current task and skill levels. The limitations imposed by flying Russian spacecraft—including height restrictions and language skills—affect the diversity of the Astronaut Corps. In addition, the committee noted that astronauts who are no longer maintained in flight status still possess valuable experience and skills and are assigned other leadership roles, often outside the Astronaut Corps.
NASA has spent many decades in developing a proven human spaceflight capability, and changes in this capability should be made with great care and with a focus on human safety and mission success. In addition to current training, computer-based models and simulators that commercial space companies develop and more aggressive approaches to ground training may be incorporated in the future. As NASA moves to international cooperation as the standard for human spaceflight, and as it integrates commercial capabilities now in development into its day-to-day operations, the proven approaches to crew training currently in use by NASA serve as a firm foundation on which to prepare for an otherwise uncertain future (Figure 2.22).
Finding 2.1a. NASA’s current Astronaut Office’s role is to support six tasks (in priority order):8
1. Provide well-trained spaceflight operators to support the NASA flight manifest.
2. Provide ground support personnel for tasks required specifically to support the NASA flight manifest.
3. Provide support for new program development, ranging from development of relatively small payloads and equipment to development of whole new spacecraft designs.
4. Provide operational knowledge and corporate memory of human spaceflight.
5. Provide for collaboration with other government and private organizations as needed and directed by NASA.
6. Provide support for public and educational outreach to society.
The first task is the one in FCOD’s model that drives the size of the Astronaut Corps—the number of astronauts qualified to fly in space. But the demands of tasks 2 through 6 add to the workload. The committee supports these roles as a proper use of an important core capability both now and into the future.
Management (inactive) astronauts serving in civil service positions in the Astronaut Office provide supplemental support for tasks 2 through 6. They do not use training assets except as instructors, evaluators, mentors, or providers of expertise; are ineligible for flight; and do not provide a reserve capacity for flight assignments.
8 NASA identified tasks 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6; the committee has added task 4.
FIGURE 2.22 A trail of smoke is seen at dawn as STS-131 launches from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on April 5, 2010. SOURCE: Courtesy of NASA.
Finding 2.1b. Although NASA’s human spaceflight program and its post-shuttle crew requirements have not been well defined beyond operation of the ISS, the sizing of the Astronaut Corps to meet ISS crew requirements has been well modeled by using ISS crew selection, training and flight recovery times, and a plan for post-shuttle force reduction.
Finding 2.1c. Astronaut anthropometric (physical size) limitations for flying in the Soyuz limit flexibility in crew assignments in response to contingencies.
Conclusion 2.1. On the basis of its assessment of known and potential needs, the committee concluded that the currently projected minimum staffing target size for the active Astronaut Corps poses a risk to the U.S. investment in human spaceflight capabilities. The committee concluded that given the array of potential crew assignment constraints and uncertainty in future requirements, the Astronaut Corps appears to be sized below the minimum required. The committee notes that the current plan for the size of the Astronaut Corps does not have the flexibility to accommodate commercial, exploration, and new mission development tasks or unexpected increases in attrition.
• The committee recommends that the factor for uncertainty used by the Astronaut Office in its model to determine minimum staffing requirements for the Astronaut Corps be increased above the current 25 percent, which is inadequate to provide sufficient flexibility to meet the current flight manifest requirements reliably.
• In addition to task 1, the Astronaut Office should maintain the staff required to accomplish tasks 2 through 6 as listed in Finding 2.1a.
Finding 2.2. In addition to the need to meet NASA requirements, there is an expectation on the part of commercial crew providers and the Federal Aviation Administration that FCOD expertise and capabilities will be available in the future.
Recommendation 2.2. NASA’s Flight Crew Operations Directorate should continue to serve as a national resource for U.S. human spaceflight experience and knowledge. This resource should be
• Maintained to ensure appropriate staffing and training of the Astronaut Corps in support of the International Space Station manifest;
• Applied to the future development of NASA human spaceflight and exploration activities;
• Available to the emerging commercial space industry and the FAA; and
• Applied to support authorized agreements with international partners.