NASA announced Friday a mix of spaceflight veterans and rookie astronauts who will launch on the first flights of new Boeing and SpaceX commercial spaceships starting as soon as next spring, several months later than previously scheduled.
NASA will announce the astronauts for the first test flights and missions of the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft Friday.
The manned test flight from Boeing will feature one NASA astronaut and one Boeing employee, most likely former astronaut Chris Ferguson.
SpaceX and Boeing, which are partnering with NASA, will first launch test flights, then regular missions.
A two-man team of NASA astronauts will ride SpaceX's Crew Dragon into orbit on its first crewed test flight, targeted for launch in April 2019. Since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, the US has been relying on Russian Soyuz rockets, launched from Kazakhstan, to get astronauts to the ISS.
Ferguson, who has been involved from the start in the Starliner's development, flew three shuttle missions as a Nasa astronaut. Boe piloted two shuttle flights.
"The opportunity to fly in a new vehicle is any test pilot and astronaut's dream", Mike Hopkins, an Air Force colonel who will fly aboard the Crew Dragon on its first mission, wrote on Twitter. "It will be thrilling to see our astronauts lift off from American soil, and we can't wait to see them aboard the International Space Station".
Although there has been talk of turning the International Space Station over to commercial parties upon the end of it's projected service life in 2025, a recent audit of that strategy carried out and released by NASA's Office of the Inspector General seems to indicate that such an extension of the ISS lifespan is unlikely.
Both vehicles will launch from Florida - Boeing's Starliner, boosted by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and SpaceX's Dragon from pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. Boeing and Space Adventures, the USA company that arranged space tourist flights on Russian Soyuz spacecraft, have a partnership that could allow paying passengers to ride in a fifth seat on CST-100 missions for shorter-duration missions.
Commercial space taxis offer an ostensibly cheaper, made-in-America option for NASA.
The astronauts assigned to the Starliner's first mission are Sunita Williams, who retired as a Navy captain, and Cmdr.
Two companies have NASA contracts to provide flights to the ISS between 2019 and 2024: SpaceX and Boeing ba . This will be Mann's first launch, having joined the astronaut corps in 2013.
The timetable for the launches was supposed to have been for test flights to take place before the end of 2018, but both companies have faced technical issues that may delay that into 2019. From left to right: Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Douglas Hurley, Robert Behnken, Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover.
Boe is a former shuttle pilot; Mann will be making her first trip into space.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company is targeting November for an unmanned test launch of the Crew Dragon atop a Falcon 9 rocket. She has spent a grand total of 322 days in space including a stint commanding the space station and performing seven spacewalks.
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