Hugh Pickens writes "NPR reports that former shuttle commander Chris Ferguson now moonlights as a drummer for MAX Q, a classic rock band comprised solely of astronauts. 'Perhaps we'll have some more time to practice here once the shuttle program comes to a slow end,' says Ferguson, raising the question — what does the future hold for NASA's elite astronaut corps after the agency mothballs its aging space shuttles in the coming months? NASA currently has about 80 active astronauts, as well as nine new astronaut candidates hired last year. But there will be fewer missions after the shuttle program ends, and those will be long-duration stays at the space station. When the Apollo program ended, astronauts had to wait years before the space shuttles were ready to fly, but the situation was different back then. Space historian Roger Launius says, 'Even before the end of the Apollo program, NASA had an approved, follow-on program — the space shuttle — and a firm schedule for getting it completed.' These days, no one knows what NASA will be doing next. Meanwhile, private companies are moving forward with their efforts, raising the possibility of astronauts for hire. NASA administrator and former astronaut Charlie Bolden talked about that prospect earlier this year, saying it would be a different approach for NASA to rent not just the space vehicle, but also a private crew of astronauts to go with it. 'When we talk about going to distant places like Mars, the moon, [or] an asteroid, we will not be able to take someone off the street, train them for a few weeks and expect them to go off and do the types of missions we will demand of them,' said Bolden."
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