NASA’s fabled astronaut corps, which numbered an all-time high of 149 a decade ago, has dwindled to just 60, and is likely to shrink further after Atlantis returns this week from the last shuttle voyage, according to an Associated Press report July 17 in the Houston Chronicle.
Among the recent departures are the commanders of the last flights of Discovery, Steven Lindsey, and Endeavour, Mark Kelly. Lindsey has signed up with private spaceflight firm Sierra Nevada, and Kelly is retiring to write a memoir with his wife, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
Chief astronaut Peggy Whitson figures she needs 55 to 60 active astronauts “at a bare minimum” to help staff the international space station over the next decade. The National Research Council is evaluating America’s astronaut needs, with a report expected in August. Depending on the findings, NASA may start taking applications soon for a new astronaut class.