NASA generally does not fire astronauts.They often leave the country on their own to devote themselves to other adventures.
But there were some occasions when an astronaut was discharged or not reassigned to flights.
In NASA’s early history, comparatively few missions were available from 1959 to 1981.
Deke Slayton, who was in charge of flight crew operations for much of this time, had the main responsibility for the flight tasks. Most of the orders were performed by rotation. If you were a replacement crew member for a flight, you would be a first-class crew member two flights later.
Deke’s assignments, however, also reflected an astronaut’s attitude toward training, health, or the astronaut’s requests for assignments.Here are some examples.
Deke Slayton himself was grounded for health reasons.As a member of the original Seven astronauts, he was supposed to be flying on a Mercury spacecraft when a heart murmur was discovered. He would successfully move on to flight operations to hire astronauts. He would eventually fly in 1975 on the last Apollo mission, the Apollo Soyuz test project.
Scott Carpenter, another original Seven astronaut, was effectively blacked out after his Aurora 7 flight.Carpenter stopped monitoring his spacecraft’s fuel during its orbits. He landed 250 miles outside the finish line and frightened NASA flight director Chris Kraft, who vowed carpenter would never fly again. Carpenter left the corps in 1967.
Gordo Cooper, another original Seven astronaut, was also transferred for an Apollo flight.Cooper was a veteran of two spaceflights and his private life left him in training. Deke had used him as a replacement for the Apollo 10 mission, but Cooper’s aversion to training meant that others who were more eager would fly instead. Cooper left the Corps in 1971.
Michael Collins was originally assigned to the mission to become Apollo 8.However, a spinal injury in his neck required surgery that lifted him off the flight and was replaced by Jim Lovell. Collins flew the historic Apollo 11 mission as a Command Module Pilot. Deke offered Collins another flight as commander of a later Apollo mission, but it was rejected for personal reasons.
Rusty Schweickart had the misfortune of having a “space disease” that other astronauts believed had taken him outside the flight rotation after his Apollo 9 test flight.Schweickart’s space walk on his mission was delayed when little-known effects of space adaptation syndrome set in and triggered vomiting that could suffocate him if it happened in a spacesuit. Rusty completed his mission, but early fears about SAS seemed to have grounded Rusty, and other astronauts were afraid of being grounded and did not report their own illness. He remained with NASA as a hard worker through Skylab and resigned in 1977.
The most public event in which an astronaut was fired was astronaut Lisa Nowak.The astronaut, a veteran of the STS-121 flight, was arrested in 2007 and charged with attempted kidnapping, burglary and more. Both she and another astronaut she once worked with, William Oefelein, became the only astronauts actively fired by NASA.