NASA will hire 1,850 more engineers in the next five years to concentrate on improvements to the Space Shuttle main engines, auxiliary power units and cockpit avionics.

The move follows an independent Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel assessment which concluded that NASA's manned spaceflight team is too small and too inexperienced to cope safely with the high rate of Space Shuttle flights needed to build the International Space Station (ISS).

The committee highlighted workforce problems at NASA centres and criticised the United Space Alliance, which operates the Space Shuttle fleet for NASA, for relying on expected productivity improvements to meet launch demands.

The increase in Shuttle staff and improvements to the fleet are part of NASA's request for a 3% increase in its fiscal year 2001 budget, to $14 billion, compared with $13.6 billion in FT2000 (Flight International, 15-21 February). About $5.5 billion is requested for human spaceflight, compared with $5.4 billion last year, of which $2.1 billion has been set aside for the ISS. The ISS allocation includes $300 million for Russia, an increase of $100 million over last year, despite the delays that Russia has caused to the space station.

Of the Shuttle's allocation, $256 million is for safety improvements, an increase from $162 million in FY2000. Space science gets $2.4 billion, a rise from $2.1 billion and includes $940 million for new solar system exploration technologies.

Source: Flight International