NASA assigns astronauts to first commercial crew missions

NASA assigns astronauts to first commercial crew missions

NASA assigns astronauts to first commercial crew missions

Assignments for the crew flight tests and the first post-certification missions will be revealed during an event that kicks off at 11 a.m. EDT at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

NASA astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Aunapu Mann are slated for the test flight of Boeing's Starliner, accompanied by former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson, who now works as a commercial astronaut for Boeing. SpaceX is targeting November for its inaugural Crew Dragon test flight, but Boeing won't launch its passenger spacecraft Starliner until late this year or early next.

The first test flight for SpaceX and Boeing will be known as Demo-1 and Orbital Flight Test, respectively.

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.

Behnken, Hurley, Boe and Mann are Nasa's first astronauts to be named to the test flights of new U.S. spacecraft since the March 1978 announcement of the space shuttle's first orbital flight test crews.

Bob Behnken: Behnken was chosen as an astronaut in 2000 and has been to space twice on two shuttle missions.

He retired from NASA in 2011, and he now directs the Crew and Mission Operations for Boeing's Commercial Crew Program. And it's now apparent that SpaceX is slightly ahead-it will conduct a crewed test flight in April of next year, while Boeing's crewed test is only scheduled for "mid-2019".

The first Boeing trip to the orbiting outpost includes Josh Cassada, who has never been in space before, and Suni Williams, who is one of the most experienced American astronauts in history, having spent a cumulative 321 days in orbit through her career. The first Crew Dragon post-certification mission will be flown by Victor Glover, another rookie astronaut selected in 2013, and Mike Hopkins, who spent 166 days on one station mission.

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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.

Besides Ferguson and Mann, the initial commercial crew members are: Eric Boe, Sunita Williams and John Cassada riding on Boeing.

The Government Accountability Office said in a recent report that Boeing's spacecraft could "tumble" in some abort scenarios, which "could pose a threat to the crew's safety".

NASA awaits the completion of both companies' test flights before certifying either safe for use to return astronauts on low-Earth-orbit missions.

Victor Glover, 42, and Michael Hopkins, 49, will fly on the first operational mission of SpaceX's crewed Dragon.

And it's not just about aesthetics - the astronauts will also be able to get more done during their limited time in space. "This accomplished group of American astronauts, flying on new spacecraft developed by our commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX, will launch a new era of human spaceflight". Ferguson will become the first former Nasa astronaut to return to orbit as a company's crew member when he flies.

SpaceX will launch from Kennedy Space Center on board Falcon 9 rockets while Boeing will send its crew capsule up from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets.

The contracts for travel to the International Space Station were awarded in 2014.

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