Report: NASA running low on astronauts, creating challenges for future space travel

A new report revealed an inside look into the challenges within NASA including having fewer astronauts and outdated training that could pose a problem for future space travel. 

In a report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General, the space agency only has 44 astronauts. At its peak in 2000, the agency had 150 astronauts. 

The OIG projects NASA will fall below its targeted number for astronauts for the fiscal years 2022 and 2023 due to attrition and the growing need for manpower to conduct future space missions. 

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"The corps might be at risk of being misaligned in the future, resulting in disruptive crew reorganizations or mission delays," the report said. 

The report found that agency has not done a good job of keeping track of astronauts’ different skillsets. "This poses a challenge to assessing whether NASA is meeting Agency and Administration diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility objectives," according to the report. 

The OIG also found that astronauts are trained to conduct missions for the International Space Station, but that same training is not adequate for future space exploration, including the Artemis missions. The missions involve putting the first woman and the first person of color on the moon no earlier than 2025 and landing on Mars at a later date. 

The OIG said NASA may not have enough time to recalibrate its training for the Artemis mission.

"Multiple years are required to recruit, hire, and train a cohort of astronauts for the Artemis missions and Artemis crewed launches planned for 2024 and 2025 leave little time available to recalibrate the corps to meet current timelines," the report continued. 

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NASA said it will take two years to train astronauts for the Artemis missions. However, the OIG said it believes it will take longer for astronauts to develop the skillsets specifically needed for trips to the moon.

NASA said, given the report, it may have to rely on its current astronaut corps for the Artemis missions given that it will "unlikely to have sufficient time to meet these [training] requirements through the 2021 astronaut candidate class."

Last month, NASA selected 10 new astronauts, half of them military pilots. The space agency introduced the six men and four women during a ceremony in Houston, home to Mission Control and the astronaut corps. 

More than 12,000 had applied for the coveted spots. The 10 selected are in their 30s and 40s, and face two years of training before becoming eligible for spaceflight.

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NASA had originally planned for a 2024 moon landing but, according to Administrator Bill Nelson, pushed the date back because of multiple factors including the COVID-19 pandemic and a lawsuit from Blue Origin, a company owned by Jeff Bezos. 

NASA had partnered with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to conduct the Artemis mission, but Blue Origin then sued, saying the company too had contracts with NASA. Blue Origin argued in a protest filed with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that SpaceX received preferential treatment.

Blue Origin alleged that NASA’s acquisition process was flawed. As part of the lawsuit, Blue Origin attacked the safety of SpaceX’s proposed Starship, claiming the craft would be "immensely complex and high risk."

In November, a Court of Federal Claims judge ruled against Blue Origin, dismissing the case and the claims of safety concerns. 

FOX Business and the Associated Press contributed to this report. This report was filed from Los Angeles.