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  Benefits of having astronauts rarely ever in space?

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Author Topic:   Benefits of having astronauts rarely ever in space?
p51
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Posts: 771
From: Olympia, WA, USA
Registered: Sep 2011

posted 05-08-2013 06:09 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
What benefit does NASA get from having their astronauts fly so rarely?

It's not unusual for someone to be at Houston for 10-20 years and maybe go up only 2-3 times. The idea that Jerry Ross went up only 7 times and that was unheard of in NASA seems sort of odd to me.

Being a former US Army officer, I was used as often as possible, as the government I suppose saw little value in my salary if I wasn't doing the job I was paid for.

So, what value did NASA get for keeping crews around when they rarely (and on some cases, ever or never) get to go into space, even in the shuttle era?

Robert Pearlman
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Posts: 27328
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 05-08-2013 06:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
By the standard that an astronaut's only job is in space, than an Army officer's only job is at war. But neither is the case.

Astronauts aren't twiddling their thumbs between flights.

In additional to backup and support crew assignments, there are technical roles filled by the astronauts when they are not flying.

And when they are assigned to a mission, there is the time needed for training. It now takes between two and three years for an astronaut to be ready to fly to the International Space Station.

After they return from space, there is time needed to debrief and readjust to life outside the mission training and flight schedule.

There is also a desire to gain an experienced corps, if for no other reason (and there are other reasons) than to have more than one person who can do the job.

p51
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Posts: 771
From: Olympia, WA, USA
Registered: Sep 2011

posted 05-08-2013 06:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman:
After they return from space, there is time needed to debrief and readjust to life outside the mission training and flight schedule.
It's kind of hard to accept that when I had people who would deploy somewhere for a year to 18 months, come back, then immediately train to go right back again. Some are doing their entire careers.

It's not just the military of course, plenty of government workers are constantly getting ready for a task, doing it, then immediately coming right back and starting the process again. I guess that's why I wonder what value they get from crews not doing the actual job of going into space, as those other roles don't really need to be filled by astronauts, they just are in some cases to give them something to do between missions.

And if the astronauts liked it that way, then I'd say more power to them and they earned the 'rest' between missions, but almost every astronaut I've ever met would have been in a perpetual training and mission cycle if it'd been up to them...

mjanovec
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From: Midwest, USA
Registered: Jul 2005

posted 05-08-2013 06:53 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by p51:
And if the astronauts liked it that way, then I'd say more power to them and they earned the 'rest' between missions

If you think the astronauts are taking a "rest" between missions, you need to look again.

Jim Behling
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Posts: 537
From: Cape Canaveral, FL
Registered: Mar 2010

posted 05-08-2013 10:00 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Having the title of astronaut is not a guarantee of a flight.

Working two to three missions in a 10 to 20 year span is not unique to just astronauts, it also applies to some engineers and scientists. They may only work two to four science spacecraft projects their whole career.

quote:
Originally posted by p51:
...but almost every astronaut I've ever met would have been in a perpetual training and mission cycle if it'd been up to them...
And every USAF pilot would like to only fly too, but there needs to bosses, tacticians, acquisition support, joint tours, etc.

p51
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Posts: 771
From: Olympia, WA, USA
Registered: Sep 2011

posted 05-09-2013 12:41 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for p51   Click Here to Email p51     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by mjanovec:
If you think the astronauts are taking a "rest" between missions, you need to look again.
I was just taking Robert's earlier words: "After they return from space, there is time needed to debrief and readjust to life outside the mission training and flight schedule."

I know a couple of former astronauts (i have never had to nerve to ask this question of either of them) and tried to be become one myself not too long ago. I know they're not sitting around playing solitaire all day at JSC...

quote:
Originally posted by Jim Behling:
And every USAF pilot would like to only fly too, but there needs to bosses, tacticians, acquisition support, joint tours, etc.
I promise you any USAF pilot spends MUCH more time in flight and getting ready for it (assuming they haven't been grounded for any reason) than almost any astronaut gets ready for a space mission...

I'm sure there'a a reason why most astronauts go up very few times in a succesful career. I used to assume it was a cumulative radiation exposure risk over several flights but I have since learned that's probably not the reason. But for the money NASA pays to train them and the competition to become one, it seems like a poor return on the investment when most astronauts I've talked with would have gone into space several more times than they did if they'd had been allowed to do so.

Robert Pearlman
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From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 05-09-2013 06:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by p51:
I was just taking Robert's earlier words: "After they return from space, there is time needed to debrief and readjust to life outside the mission training and flight schedule."
Nor was I implying "rest," but rather as written, debriefing and readjusting.

But that was just one aspect of why the downtime between flights. For a broader perspective, I would suggest reading the 2011 report from the National Research Council's Committee on Human Spaceflight Crew Operations, "Preparing for the High Frontier: The Role and Training of NASA Astronauts in the Post-Space Shuttle Era."

The report includes a historical look at the selection and size of the U.S. astronaut corps, and the staffing needs of the Astronaut Office. It also summarizes the pre- and post-flight schedules for astronauts and the responsibilities that they fill while on Earth.

To cite just one data point from the report:

The Astronaut Corps in 1985 was just large enough to support the flight rate and crew training template. In some cases, mission specialists in particular were rotating from one flight to training for another flight with only a few weeks in between.
In 1985, there were just over 100 astronauts in the corps, an all-time high at that point in history. So the basic premise of the original question — that astronauts have always waited for flight assignments — has not necessarily always been the case.

Jim Behling
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Posts: 537
From: Cape Canaveral, FL
Registered: Mar 2010

posted 05-09-2013 11:27 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by p51:
I promise you any USAF pilot spends MUCH more time in flight and getting ready for it (assuming they haven't been grounded for any reason) than almost any astronaut gets ready for a space mission...
Not relevant, the point is that pilots have other duties than just flying.

Two-to-three year mission training cycle plus additional duties would limit a military astronaut to one to two missions during a five to six year tour with NASA. Also, age plays into it for long duration missions or missions with strenuous EVAs.

Michael Cassutt
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Posts: 263
From: Studio City CA USA
Registered: Mar 2005

posted 05-10-2013 12:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Michael Cassutt   Click Here to Email Michael Cassutt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The original question — why does [or did] NASA fly individual astronauts so rarely? — goes back to the early days of the program, when the agency selected twice as many test pilots as it needed for flying the proposed Mercury missions because these men were needed for engineering development.

Throughout the 1960s, there was a constant tug of war between FCOD director Deke Slayton and higher-ups over the number of astronauts. Slayton preferred a smaller corps, at one point saying, feeling that everyone ought to fly more frequently.

But he was over-ruled for several reasons, one of them nakedly political: NASA management had seen the power wielded by the Mercury astronauts, and felt that a larger team diluted that.

There was also a more practical issue, which was... were astronauts flying operational missions or test-flights? (There was a similar battle in unmanned space at that time, with USAF missile/space types wanting to fly regular KH recon missions on an operational schedule while CIA intel types wanted them flown when needed...)

Through Apollo, the answer was: these are test-flights and require lengthy training. And not only for flight crews: training mission control and other support teams was a major part of the process.

Slayton kept pursuing an operational model into the 1970s, when he proposed creating of a Shuttle astronaut pool that would consist of as few as a dozen pilots — six pilot-co pilot teams that would fly multiple times a year — and perhaps twice as many mission specialists.

This was rejected and a larger group was selected, with astronauts flying once a year, if that, from 1981 through 1985. NASA officials continued to treat each flight as unique, more test-oriented than operational, requiring mission-specific training on equipment and procedures, which required months, not weeks.

To be fair, had the Shuttle avoided the Challenger loss and moved toward a higher flight rate, there were plans to re-size the team in Slayton's model — there would have been pilot-co pilot teams flying twice a year, along with teams of mission specialist pairs.

But that flight rate was never achieved. Shuttle missions were treated as test or development flights with training times of at least six months.

(Not often discussed, but also real: the risk factor is pretty high. Of 35 astronaut candidates selected in January 1978, four were dead within eight years. The chance of a fatal accident remained high — obviously — throughout the Shuttle program. (And was at least as high or higher during Mercury/Gemini/Apollo.) I haven't seen recent stats on the subject, but my clear impression is that flying in space is judged to be riskier than flying in combat... and far riskier than in operational military flying.)

NASA could easily find astronauts who were willing to say, fine, I'll take the risk, fly me 3-4 times a year. But those tend not to be the ones who do best in the other aspects of the job — mission support, procedures development, engineering — which consume most of an astronaut's career hours.

(The two most highly-regarded astronauts of the MGA era, Borman and McDivitt, were considered to be extremely cautious, even to the point of declining historic flight assignments because the odds were not in their favor — among other reasons.)

Operational military pilots and aviators face risks, of course, and their work is undeniably valuable and should be honored. But they are working in a different world.

billshap
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Posts: 11
From: St. Louis, MO, USA
Registered: Nov 2009

posted 05-11-2013 10:18 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for billshap     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Michael, you mentioned Borman and McDivitt as the most highly regarded astronauts of the M-G-A era. Who would you consider to have the same niche in the shuttle era? Use any criteria you feel appropriate.

Michael Cassutt
Member

Posts: 263
From: Studio City CA USA
Registered: Mar 2005

posted 05-11-2013 02:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Michael Cassutt   Click Here to Email Michael Cassutt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Bill, Shuttle era? Crippen, Hauck, Fabian, Brandenstein, Hawley, Leestma, Chang-Diaz, Ross, Wetherbee, Shepherd, Cabana. Off the top of my head and your mileage may vary, of course.

Michael Cassutt
Member

Posts: 263
From: Studio City CA USA
Registered: Mar 2005

posted 05-11-2013 03:33 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Michael Cassutt   Click Here to Email Michael Cassutt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Let me add Gibson, too.

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