Space Program's End Leaves Astronauts Jobless

By: Mark Straussman - CBS News Email
By: Mark Straussman - CBS News Email

As the NASA shuttle fleet heads for retirement, the number of astronauts are dwindling. Some are retiring, while others are moving on to private companies.

Michael Fincke's just lived any astronaut's dream, riding on the shuttle last month to the space station.

"Oh, boy you could feel the seven million pounds of thrust - you could feel it in your bones, the majesty of a space shuttle."

For NASA astronauts, that majesty comes with a new reality.

From the Mercury and Apollo glory days -- when astronauts became instant American heroes -- NASA grew to 149 shuttle astronauts a decade ago.

Only 61 of them remain -- as the shuttle fleet heads for retirement.

Fincke says:

"There's a lot of soul-searching going on in the astronaut world, It's a little intimidating i think, especially for a lot of us who've only had one dream and now all of a sudden things are changing."

Like Fincke, astronaut Rick Mastracchio is sticking around, and with good reason. In 2013, he's heading to the space station.

But when he launches, he'll have to ride with the Russians.

Rick says:

"It's very disappointing as an astronaut not to have a vehicle that can carry more folks into orbit. I think we're in for a very big challenge, and the next five years can go either way."

What is clear: American astronauts will fly a lot less. At most, about three or four astronauts a year will squeeze into one of these Russian Soyuz spacecraft, and head to the space station.

On the Soyuz, Americans likely will be passengers.

NASA needs fewer astronauts, especially pilots.

Despite all the unknowns, this generation of astronauts still dares to dream...of flight.

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  • by smokey the bear Location: wakulla on Jul 7, 2011 at 12:12 PM
    o well join the rest of the state workes at wakillasprings campgrond.
  • by T. Hee on Jul 7, 2011 at 10:18 AM
    If any of the astronauts gets a new job, our criminal governor will claim he had something to do with it ... and count them along with the thousands of jobs he has already "created".
  • by Anonymous on Jul 7, 2011 at 09:58 AM
    Nobama has created a lot of change now....hasn't he?
  • by Ed Location: Tallahassee on Jul 7, 2011 at 06:47 AM
    It will probably be a Chinese/Russian effort that lands men on Mars. We will be spending our wealth on bailouts for Goldman Sachs.
  • by Military Location: Tallahassee on Jul 7, 2011 at 05:45 AM
    Don't all of the Astronauts actually work for one of the branches of the military?
  • by Gerry Location: Tallahassee on Jul 7, 2011 at 05:40 AM
    The space program isn't ending. The space shuttle is being retired. There is a healthy unmanned space program. There is still a rover, Opportunity, alive on Mars. There is a New Horizons space probe heading toward Pluto. There is a spacecraft, Messenger, in orbit around Mercury. The Kepler space telescope continues its search for planets transiting other stars. The Hubble Space Telescope continues operating. What is the International Space Station for, anyway?
    • reply
      by Mercury on Jul 7, 2011 at 07:28 AM in reply to Gerry
      It's for scientific experiments and to study how the human body is affected by a weightless habitat. The list goes on but you get the idea.
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