NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Too Many Astronauts

July 31, 2003

A recent NASA inspector general's report criticized the inefficient use of highly trained astronauts. It confirmed the view of many space workers that there are too many -- perhaps twice as many -- astronauts than are really needed, costing the program too much money.

The IG report, in fact, pointed out that astronauts are used to perform tasks that ordinary engineers could do at far lower cost:

  • NASA has 107 active astronauts on its payroll and 37 more in management jobs -- in all, almost half of the astronauts selected in the past 45 years.
  • Of those 107 active astronauts, half haven't been on a mission; some will not fly for many years.
  • A fleet of T-38 jets is kept up so astronauts can keep up their proficiency at high-performance jet operations.
  • Giant water pools are used to train astronauts for spacewalks, which they may do once or twice in their careers.

NASA refuses to put a figure on the cost of this training, but it has to add millions of dollars beyond the salaries it pays each astronaut, says James Oberg, who spent 22 years at NASA Mission Control in Houston.

According to Oberg, flying fewer astronauts more often would create immense training and support savings and result in fresher, sharper crews that would be more efficient and safer.

Source: James Oberg, "Costly astronauts wield too much clout," USA Today, July 31, 2003.

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