A.J. Mackenzie, writing in The Space Review, suggests that the most recent class of 12 #NASA astronauts that were presented with such fanfare will be the last that will be selected for a long time. He makes a persuasive case that a 55 person astronaut corps (minus any future retirements) will be more than adequate for the missions NASA has planned for the time being. He adds slots in the #international space station, some commercial crew demo flights, and the once a year Orion missions that the #Space Agency plans, The article suggests that we won’t need any more astronauts until at least the late 2020s when presumably the Journey to Mars starts to draw near.

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However, all that depends on NASA plans to remain the way they were when President Donald Trump entered the office, which will not be the case.

How many astronauts will be needed to go back to the moon?

Vice President Mike Pence has already confirmed that the Trump administration wants to send Americans back to the moon. How that happens will determine whether NASA is going to need some extra astronauts or not. Indeed some geologists and other scientists with expertise relevant to lunar exploration would likely need to be added.

Everything depends on the scope of the return to the moon program. One expedition a year, which will also likely include international and commercial astronauts, suggests minimum additions to the astronaut corps. However, if NASA and her international and commercial partners decide to set up a lunar base, the number of extra astronauts could be open ended.

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The size of a lunar base would be determined how much one wants to spend moving people and cargo to and from the moon and how self-sufficient the base could be made to be.

What about commercial space stations?

Mackenzie, in his article, mentions the possibility of tours on commercial space stations as something else NASA astronauts can do. The need for microgravity research is not going to go away once the International Space Station ends its operational life in 2024. Companies like Bigelow Aerospace and Axiom Space intend to build commercial space stations and will likely make most of their money initially from renting space to NASA.

Commercial astronauts

Of course, starting in the near future, NASA will not be the only American organization that flies astronauts. Commercial astronauts will fly the SpaceX Dragon and Boeing Starliner to and from the International Space Station. Later, people working for space mining operations will be visiting the moon and asteroids. And, of course, the proposed United States Space Corps will likely need military astronauts eventually.