back to article Surplus astronaut right-sizing imminent at NASA?

There is concern at NASA regarding how to find work for all its astronauts following the demise of the space shuttle fleet and President Obama's bid to axe the shuttles' planned manned spaceflight successor, the Constellation programme. If the Obama administration's plans are accepted by Congress, two of NASA's main humans-in- …


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  1. hplasm

    It's quite sad really-

    We should be back in the trees by the end of the century at this rate.

  2. ravenviz Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Form an orderly queue

    I'd be gutted if that was me and I hadn't flown yet. Looks more and more like private enterprise is going to take the baton, they'll be queuing round the block at Virgin Galactic.

    There are other ways to get to space though.

  3. Hollerith 1

    golden arches

    If McDonald's is good enough for most graduates, it's good enough for them.

  4. Anonymous Coward


    >“When we talk about going to distant places like Mars, the moon, an asteroid, we will not be able to take someone off the street, train them for a few weeks and expect them to go off and do the types of missions we will demand of them,”

    What about Armageddon? They trained that bunch of monkeys in no time at all!

  5. Annihilator Silver badge

    Absolutely crushing

    It's disgraceful that this is the case, but I put it to the non-US countries that we should be taking more of the responsibility. Why is it solely up to NASA (or the US) to be doing this stuff? Why don't the EU step up to the mark?

  6. Simon Bradshaw

    It's the 'Excess Eleven' all over again...

    - eleven scientist-astronauts recruited by NASA at a point when it was painfully obvious that there were unlikly to be any missions for them for at least a decade. Two - England and Henize - didn't get a mission for eighteen years.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    What do you do with a redundant astronaut?

    Human canonball at the circus?

  8. John70

    International Effort

    If there is going to be any manned missions to the Moon or Mars (or further) it will have to be an International Co-operation.

    We can no longer rely on the US of A for advancing mankind into space.

    If the International Community pools their resources (man power, technology and money) we could be on the Moon again within a decade and on Mars with 20 years.

    I'm sure China or India would love to get a man on the moon, well any other nation just to beat the Americans.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: International Effort

      "I'm sure China or India would love to get a man on the moon, well any other nation just to beat the Americans."

      I guess you missed the news about that. It was all low-key and all, and America's not a nation to boast.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    sad situation for the whole human race really...

    I wasn't born at the time of the first landings, but those images probably are included in the most memorable and awe inspiring of the last century, they defined man's ambition to push the limits of our capabilities. If anything, it gave hope that we could one day set aside petty squabbling and reach for something greater than this little rock that we're on...

    This is a giant leap backwards for mankind and sets a frightening trend with privatization of space travel, a few companies will dominate and control access to something, which should benefit all humanity, instead it will now line the pockets of a minority...

  10. Poor Coco

    It's Canada's turn!

    Now we can poach their astro-talent, the same way the States poached all our design talent after the cancellation of the Avro Arrow!

  11. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    or "The most pampered b"£$%^&s I know"

    As a certain science fiction writer described them.

    Johnson has spent *decades* finding reasons to employ them and hence keep *itself *in business while insisting that *no* vehicle *other* than ones designed under NASA sanction could *possibly* carry one of their staff without exploding on the pad.

    Johnson has at least 4 options if they want to stay in business.

    Re-configure their facilities to train for Soyuz flight.

    Accelerated the COTS programme to include level 5 (human) transport on the Dragon and Cygnus capsule

    Re-consider their decision that neither of the EELV's (Atlas V and Delta IV) are safe enough and robust enough to man rate for a capsule (still need to to get a capsule designed. it would depend how far along the Constellation design is).

    Hire out their training faciliites to other countries like ESA, India , Virgin Galactic or (dare I even *suggest* it) members of the *general* public. IIRC they did have ESA astonauts in their neutral buoancy tank when spacelab flew (was it just me or did Wubbo Ockels have the whole 70's porn star look down).

    Johnson, along with Marshall have proved *very* adept at finding reasons to continue existing. Perhaps this will re-focus them on what *exactly* they do that is critical to how a modern crewed launch programme should be run. The Von Braun view that "We will give you a space programme. You will be very proud of it, but space is *far* too dangerous for ordinary people to go to" is *very* slowly changing.

    Space is a place 67km straight up. People go to the top of Mount Everest or Antartica more routinely.

    Mine will be the one with a copy of Battle Royale in it. Perhaps the perfect will to select the survivors.

  12. STurtle

    Rover's Spirit

    Given the advances in robotics, why exactly do we need trained monkeys in space?

    Spirit and Opportunity did quite well. How many Rovers can we operate on Mars for the price of one Mars Spacepirate?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Birmingham Interplanetary Spaceport eh?

      MG Rover in space? I wouldn't like to go to the end of the road in a Rover let alone 67km straight up. What if you got a Friday tea break rocket? They'd forget to do up the doors or summat. Besides aren't they all Chinese now?

  13. Captain Save-a-ho

    What[s the big deal?

    I certainly disagree with the decision to scrap the Constellation program, though here's the offshoot:

    "...more funds will be channelled into an existing scheme for private rocket provide space lift under NASA contract"

    So, all those NASA employees (astronauts included) should have opportunities in the private sector, which should outnumber the public sector jobs just based on the number of companies preparing to get in this new market.

    It's actually a pretty shocking conclusion, given just how anti-freemarket the current US administration seems to be.

    1. David Stever


      The rest of the human race is anti-freemarket, Captain. We need market rules, and the GOP hasn't brooked those for the last 30 years.

      The best way to get rid of the horrible, unflyable Ares I was to trash the program. Once we man rate the Atlas V, we'll fly that, as well as the Dragon Capsule that SpaceX is building. The Orion capsule can be redesigned again, so all the weight savings pulled out over the past two years can be put back, so it will be a robust machine, and be capable of doing what it needs to do- fly to the Moon, fly to an Asteroid or two, on top of the Atlas. Don't forget, Bigelow will be flying space research modules soon, and LM, SpaceX, Boeing, and Orbital will all be flying by the end of the decade.

  14. tom 24

    88 Unemployed Astronauts? It's a catastrophe!

    Oh no! US unemployment is about to go up by another .0001%!

  15. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    Those days are over

    Who needs astronauts any more anyway? Robots can explore space far more quickly, far more cheaply and far more comprehensively than humans can. Modern flight engineering means that completely automatic rockets are the way ahead. Carrying a pilot is a waste of launch power.

    In the unlikely event that they do need hands-on astronauts again, they can train up a few US military meat-head pilots in less time than it would take to build the thing they're flying.

    Sorry Dan. Sorry Digby. The machines do it now.

  16. AndrewG

    What about China?

    By All accounts they've got a booming (excuse the pun) manned space program - plans to reach the moon by 2020 - I'm sure they'd love some ex-NASA astronauts, they already have most of the US dollars

  17. variant

    Fantastic news for space exploration and human expansion!

    So good to hear that this money burning and largely wasteful era in space (yes, I do feel privileged to have lived through it even so), which provides a few select people with a joyride around the earth all in the name of "science", is finally coming to an end.

    Time to make way for the ones who really have the impetus, insight and financial backing to do something useful up there! Yes, I am talking about commercial space flight (or perhaps a science fiction crazed dictator) as the *only* reasonable means for humans to get off this god forsaken planet on a more permanent basis.

    This event would give commercial space exploration the kick in the ass it really needs! Fortunately for company "whatever", they will have a bunch of unemployed and highly skilled astronauts ready and willing for action :-D


    PS, see you in 30 years on the space station when I cash in some retirement fund for a package trip to Mars colony...

  18. Craig Vaughton

    There's always..

    I'm sure Disney would love a few real astronauts for Mission Space at EPCOT?

    No need to move house, its just down the 528 from the Cape. But bring your own uniforms.

    It's sad really, we have to get of this rock somehow, because if we're the only sentient life form in the galaxy, we're in trouble!

  19. Taz Taziuk

    We've fallen a long way since Maj. Tony Nelsen

    Can you imagine using NASA as the subject of a sitcom today?

  20. TranquilityBay

    Astronauts not space cadets....Highly skilled pros!

    There's more to being an astronaut than hopping aboard the shuttle & strapping on a safety belt. It's incredibly complex although most astronauts doing maintenance work on ISS make it look easy. Yet, isn't that the sign of a true professional....making the difficult look effortless?

    Astronauts have the ability to make essential repairs that require flexibility, manual dexterity and immediate responsiveness - reacting to unforeseen problems in ways that no machine can be programmed to react. Doesn't anyone remember the emergency repair to the underbelly of the shuttle where the astronaut had to futz with the foam insulation and spray some goop in a specific spot, all while tethered the ship & balancing on a ridiculously small steel step with essentially nothing underneath him by a revolving blue marble? -- or -- the delicate but forceful adjustment to a solar array that was way, way, way out on the edge of the panel? One wrong move and you're toast -- do it right and you've saved the day. This astronaut restored workability by using his elbow grease and his ingenuity. These were critical adjustments that no robot could have accomplished - although robotic tech is vital to assist humans. A prime example is the invaluable Canadian Robotic Arm. An interior astronaut manipulated the Arm which enabled the exterior astronaut to be placed in the exact position necessary to conduct the death defying repair. If LEO can be thrilling...I'd really like to see astronauts go the the words of Buzz Lightyear..."To Infinity and Beyond."

    The complaint that Constellation is over-budget & behind schedule is typical for a project of this caliber. Every other private spacecraft is also over-budget and behind schedule. This does not endorse the situation but SAFETY is a top priority to NASA. Delays are often due to either funding or safety issues. For example, if the shuttle launches a day late because low resting clouds posed a potential hazard, NASA will be behind schedule. Private industry has not proven it is even capable of being ready to take on a challenge of this magnitude. NASA has had successful test flights and is fully up to the task. As a nation, we can do this! America should retain leadership in human space flight by fully funding Constellation's mission to the moon and Mars.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      "The complaint that Constellation is over-budget & behind schedule is typical for a project of this

      caliber. Every other private spacecraft is also over-budget and behind schedule.

      AFAIK the *only* private spacecraft (IE orbital vehicles) are the Cygnus and Dragon capsules. Both have announced schedules and received COTS funding. AFAIK they are both on their schedules and have not requested any more COTS funding. Although SpaceX built a new launch vehicle from scratch (along with the mfg line) and launched 4 of them for *less* than $250m.

      If you meant every private spacecraft project staffed by ex-NASA managers like Kistler (bought out by Rocketplane and recipent of c$150m of COTS funding on *top* of c$800m in VC funding)

      I'd have to agree with you.

      For example, if the shuttle launches a day late because low resting clouds posed a potential hazard, NASA will be behind schedule.

      Quite true. But what point are you trying to make? Historically *only* about 25% of launches (c1980-2002) took off on time. Perhaps more attention on lighting hardness and certifying it for instrument flight rules ($6bn+ development programme and it can't land in *anything* but perfect visibility, which means it can't take off in anything but *perfect* visibilty at *all* landing sites).

      Private industry has not proven it is even capable of being ready to take on a challenge of this magnitude.

      As others have commented while NASA set the requirments for Atlas/mercury, Titan/Gemini and Saturn/Apollow were *all* built by private industry. An awful lot has been learned since those days, much of it written up (NASA SP8000 series)

      NASA has had successful test flights and is fully up to the task.

      Last crewed test programme for a NASA *space* vehicle was Shuttle, roughly 1981-1986.

      Constellation has managed *one* test flight with a dummy 2nd stage and capsule. It did not explode. The launch seemed to have more to do with launching *something* than getting data to tighten up the accuracy of the FEA models.

      NASA scrapped the cost enegineered SSME (despite it being a *critical* part of both proposals no one seemed to have checked if Rocketdyne could *make* a cost engineered SSME. They'd looked at altitude starting 10 years earlier ). Calling its replacement a J-2x is about as accurate as calling its turbo pumps "V2 derived."

      As a nation, we can do this!

      As a nation US space companies (in certain cases sub-contracting the actual *work* to Russian, French or Italian companies) probably can. Under NASA leadership to a NASA design using NASA procurement rules with the present level of funding it will fail.

      America should retain leadership in human space flight by fully funding Constellation's mission to the moon and Mars.

      If by leadership you mean having a launch system that is more expensive and unique to NASA, perhaps it should loose its leadership. You might like to note that GW Bush Jnr gave *one* speech in support of his plan and *never* spoke of it again.

      if you mean in terms of astronauts launched (and returned alive to Earth), understanding of long term effects and developing life support for that *long* journey to Mars, that would the former Soviet Union. I could add that their Sealaunch Zenith design is state of the art in reducing the "Standing army" which is the root cause of high launch costs.

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  22. vincent himpe

    To quote Beldar Conehead

    Humans on the moon , ahahahahahahahahaa.

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