MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The official help-wanted Web site for the federal government can be kind of dry - except for that ad from NASA. They are looking for new astronauts. The starting pay is about $60,000 and you have to be between 62 and 75 inches tall, plus you have to be willing to join an agency that is about to mothball its spaceships.
NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports.
NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE: Duane Ross has worked at NASA for more than 40 years. Since 1975, he's helped select astronauts.
Mr. DUANE ROSS (Astronaut selection manager, NASA): The first group that I worked with was the first group of shuttle astronauts, the class that came on board in 1978.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Ross is now recruiting 10 to 15 new faces. But this time around, the job description is a little different.
Mr. ROSS: This time, we're not selecting astronauts to go fly on the space shuttle.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: NASA plans to retire the shuttles in 2010, and Ross says these new astronauts won't be trained and ready to fly until a year later. NASA is designing and building a new space vehicle, but it won't be ready until 2015. That means for a few years, the only option Americans will have is to go into space on board a Russian spacecraft.
Earlier this year, NASA administrator Michael Griffin said this bothers him.
Mr. MICHAEL GRIFFIN (Administrator, NASA): Frankly - I'll just put it out there - I find it unseemly for the United States to be dependent in a core strategic capability upon other nations, even if they are partners. It's unseemly.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Still, NASA expects to get thousands of applications by the deadline next July.
A few years ago, NASA's inspector general criticized the agency for hiring more astronauts than it needs. The agency says it currently has 91 astronauts available to fly. The vast majority have already flown or have been assigned to a future mission.
Ross says six or seven retire every year. So before too long, the agency could lose half its astronaut corps.
Mr. ROSS: The worst thing you can do is not to have enough astronauts to fill your mission requirements.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: The current mission is to operate the orbiting space station, which is staffed 24/7. But these new astronauts could get a shot at the moon. NASA is designing its new spacecraft to go there by the year 2020. Ross says if job applicants ask whether they'll walk on the moon, here's what he'll say.
Mr. ROSS: If the development goes on schedule and if you, you know, stay around long enough, then yeah, that's not outside the realm of possibility.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: But he says NASA makes no promises. Even if you make the cut, there's no guarantee that you'll ever leave Earth.
Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.
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