Roamy here. The NY Times had an interesting article last month on the dwindling number of astronauts as the Space Shuttle program draws to a close. From a high of 150 before the Columbia accident, it has dropped to 61, and I would expect that to drop further. Some have retired, others have moved on to SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and other aerospace firms.
This made me wonder about the last time there was a significant time gap between space vehicles. The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project flew in 1975, and we would not fly again until 1981. How many astronauts waited until it was finally their turn to fly? Most of the carry-overs were from Astronaut Group 5 “The Original 19”, selected in 1966, Astronaut Group 6 “The Excess 11”, selected in 1967, and the transfers from the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program. Apollo veterans that later flew the Space Shuttle include John Young, Ken Mattingly, Vance Brand, Jack Lousma, and Paul Weitz. Joe Engle earned his astronaut wings in the X-15 before flying the Shuttle in 1981 and 1985. Those who were astronaut candidates during Apollo but didn’t fly until the Shuttle era include Bruce McCandless, Joseph Allen, Anthony England, Karl Henize, William Lenoir, Robert Parker, Bill Thornton, and the indomitable Story Musgrave. The most patient of astronauts? Don Lind, who waited 19 years between selection and his Shuttle flight in 1985.
How many astronauts do we need to keep? I don’t know. We shouldn’t finish the International Space Station only to abandon it, so we’ll need someone up there. Some will ride on the Soyuz, and some will be on Dragon flights, I hope. I know I value the astronauts’ input in designing hardware, for ergonomics and durability. One also hopes that NASA will continue to inspire kids to be astronauts when they grow up.