Chief of the Astronaut Office

The Chief of the Astronaut Office is the most senior leadership position for active astronauts at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The Chief Astronaut serves as head of the NASA Astronaut Corps and is the principal advisor to the NASA Administrator on astronaut training and operations.

History

When Deke Slayton was grounded from the Mercury Seven due to a heart condition, he took on the position of Coordinator of Astronaut Activities and informally held the title of "chief astronaut". In this role, he held responsibility for the operation of the astronaut office.[1]

The position of Chief of the Astronaut Office was officially created in November 1963, when Alan Shepard was named as the first Chief Astronaut. His responsibilities included monitoring the coordination, scheduling, and control of all activities involving NASA astronauts. This included monitoring the development and implementation of effective training programs to assure the flight readiness of available pilot and non-pilot personnel for assignment to crew positions on manned space flights; furnishing pilot evaluations applicable to the design, construction, and operations of spacecraft systems and related equipment; and providing qualitative scientific and engineering observations to facilitate overall mission planning, formulation of feasible operational procedures, and selection and conduct of specific experiments for each flight.[2]

Since the Shuttle era, the Chief of the Astronaut Office often returns to active duty in the Office once their term is complete. The Chief is currently responsible for managing Astronaut Office resources and operations, and helps develop astronaut flight crew operation concepts and crew assignments for future spaceflight missions.[3]

List of Chief Astronauts

# Name Started Resigned Deputies Notes
1Deke SlaytonSeptember 1, 1962November 1963 unofficial
2Alan ShepardNovember 1963July 1969
3Tom StaffordJuly 1969June 1971 Stafford held the position while Shepard prepared for and flew Apollo 14.
4Alan ShepardJune 1971August 1, 1974
5John YoungJanuary 14, 1974April 15, 1987 Paul J. Weitz Acting Chief during STS-1 training was Alan Bean.[4]
6Dan BrandensteinApril 27, 1987October 1992 Steven Hawley Hawley was Acting Chief while Brandenstein prepared for and flew STS-49, the first flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour.
7Robert GibsonDecember 8, 1992September 6, 1994 Linda Godwin Gibson handed the position over to Cabana to begin training for STS-71, the first Shuttle docking to Mir.
8Robert CabanaSeptember 6, 1994October 1997 Linda Godwin Cabana handed the position over to Cockrell to begin training for STS-88, the first International Space Station assembly mission.
9Kenneth CockrellOctober 1997October 1998 Cockrell later flew two Shuttle missions.
10Charles PrecourtOctober 1998November 2002 Kent Rominger and Steve Smith
11Kent RomingerNovember 2002September 2006 Andy Thomas and Peggy Whitson
12Steven W. LindseySeptember 2006October 2009 Janet Kavandi and Sunita Williams (February 2008 to October 2009). Lindsey resigned when he was assigned to command STS-133, which at the time was planned to be the final Space Shuttle mission.[5]
13Peggy WhitsonOctober 2009July 2012 Rick Sturckow (October 2009 to August 2011); Michael Barratt, MD, and then subsequently Robert Behnken and Eric Boe Whitson was the first woman and first non-pilot to serve as Chief Astronaut. She resigned when she went back on active flight status.[6]
14Robert BehnkenJuly 2012July 2015 Eric Boe Behnken and Boe both returned to flight status, working on the Commercial Crew vehicle.
15Christopher CassidyJuly 2015June 2017 Patrick Forrester Cassidy returned to flight status to await a future mission.
16Patrick ForresterJune 2017present Reid Wiseman, then Megan McArthur Behnken

Notes

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