in response to NASA Headquarters-controlled safety and mission success requirements and embedded at the level of the NASA JSC Certificate of Flight Readiness for safe operations of flight, which is then provided to NASA Headquarters. Any changes in spaceflight readiness training need to be made with great care because changes can result in increased risk to safety and mission success.

Finding 3.3b. Spaceflight readiness training using high-performance aircraft has been demonstrated and documented to prepare crews for successful and safe spaceflight, dating back 50 years, from the inception of the Mercury program to the current International Space Station program. SFRT is more than just flying—the full spectrum of experiences gained is not restricted to the operation of high-performance aircraft but extrapolates to crew resource management and performance under stress. SFRT is used effectively internationally to produce qualified members of the Astronaut Corps who are independent of crew position or vehicle design.

Recommendation 3.3. To ensure continued safety and mission success, NASA should maintain a spaceflight readiness training program that includes high-performance aircraft.

Finding 3.4a. FCOD maintains the Astronaut Corps and provides the capability to conduct SFRT.

Finding 3.4b. High-performance aircraft present conditions, including crew disorientation and rapid fluctuation in G-forces, under which the flight crew must carry out complex tasks in a stressful and potentially life-threatening environment. That combination of unique environments, demand for rapid, critical decision making, and historical evidence convinced the committee that SFRT provides experience-based training that cannot be duplicated by current or, to the best of the committee’s knowledge, projected alternative techniques or technologies.

Finding 3.4c. Given the current investment in the existing T-38N fleet, this fleet is the most cost-effective means of providing SFRT in the near term. In the long term, new technology that may be a more cost-effective means of providing SFRT might be demonstrated and proved.

Finding 3.4d. The size of the T-38N SFRT fleet is projected to fall to 16 aircraft in 2013.

Recommendation 3.4. NASA should retain the T-38N fleet for spaceflight readiness training and should fund the fleet at a level commensurate with the projected required size of the post-shuttle Astronaut Corps.

Finding and Recommendation on Learning from Other Occupations

Finding 3.5. Substantial research is being undertaken on selection and training of personnel in related high-stress occupations. Some of that work is leading to continually improving methods and technologies for training for team and individual performance in stressful high-risk situations.

Recommendation 3.5. NASA should continue to monitor training methods and technologies in related fields for possible ways to enhance the astronaut selection and training process.


Chapter 1 of this report explains the evolution of the U.S. astronaut program, detailing how the Astronaut Corps has grown and shrunk over time, why it has done so, and how its composition has changed. It also describes the evolution of the ground training facilities. Finally, it explains how and why spaceflight readiness training that requires an aircraft training capability was introduced to the program and how that capability has evolved.

Chapter 2 responds to the committee’s first task. It explains the current status of NASA’s FCOD, its Astronaut

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement