FIGURE 2.1 Sunrise over Earth and the International Space Station. SOURCE: Courtesy of NASA.
Astronaut Office management presented a comprehensive briefing to the committee on its current mission. At a top level, the current Astronaut Office mission statement is to support five tasks:
1. Provide well-trained spaceflight operators to support the NASA flight manifest.
2. Provide ground support personnel for unique tasks required to support the NASA flight manifest.
3. Provide support for new program development. This ranges from development of relatively small payloads and equipment to new spacecraft designs.
4. Provide support for public and educational outreach to our society.
5. Provide for collaboration with other government and private organizations as needed.
Although NASA did not present this list in priority order, the committee believes that the first task, providing well-trained spaceflight operators to support the NASA flight manifest, is clearly the Astronaut Office’s top priority, and the remaining tasks are at least in rough priority order. The committee identified a sixth task: Provide operational knowledge and corporate memory of human spaceflight.2 The committee concluded that the Astronaut Office already provides this operational knowledge and corporate memory of human spaceflight. For example, senior astronauts train new astronauts, and astronauts who have finished flying space missions often transition to management positions in the agency and take their knowledge with them. NASA has frequently used astronauts in senior leadership positions where they run major programs and even centers. With the transition to commercial crew operations, the committee concluded that it was important to make this role of the Astronaut Office explicit, not merely implicit.
2 In Finding 2.1a, the committee has listed NASA’s five tasks plus the sixth, added by the committee, in the priority order established by the committee, which places public outreach and education sixth on the list.