NASA names astronauts for first commercial space flights

Ismael LynchAug 08, 2018

NASA will announce the astronauts for the first test flights and missions of the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft Friday. "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".

NASA made the announcement today (Aug. 3) here at the Johnson Space Center, with the agency revealing the eight agency astronauts and one Boeing astronaut before a cheering crowd of lawmakers, dignitaries and kids waving signs and American flags. Initially, all four crew members trained on both vehicles, but with flights just a year away, NASA is now assigning the crew to specific missions. Boeing is aiming for a test flight at the end of this year or early next, and the first crew flight in the middle of next year. Since then, every nation on Earth has relied on Russian Federation to get to the International Space Station.

Following the big announcement, the nine elite astronauts chosen to re-launch USA -based crew spaceflights to the ISS took part in a Reddit Ask Me Anything session, where they answered a lot of question about their upcoming missions - including if they got to choose which of the two crew vessels they will be riding in.

The Boeing Starliner test flight will see the craft launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, from Cape Canaveral's Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida. Each ship requires two crewed test launches before NASA will certify it for routine flight.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon space capsule, which will make a trial trip attached to a Falcon rocket launched from Florida, will have a crew of two: Doug Hurley, who piloted both the Endeavor and the Atlantis, and Bob Behnken, who has six space trips on his resume. The first mission has been tasked to Josh Cassada (first time in space) and Sunita Williams, ISS astronaut. For the seven years since then, NASA has relied on Russia's pricey Soyuz spacecraft to ferry American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Boeing's uncrewed test flight will slip to the end of 2018, and its crewed test will launch in mid-2019. For the first actual Crew Dragon mission, Victor Glover will undertake his first spaceflight alongside seasoned astronaut Michael Hopkins, who has spent 166 days aboard the space station.

The astronauts were divided into smaller crews assigned to work on test flights and first missions to the worldwide space station. All but three of the astronauts are space flight veterans. The missions will likely include veterans from the US' Space Shuttle program, Gizmodo reported. Beyond its own contract with Russia, NASA was able to secure five more seats through an arrangement with Boeing, which obtained them as part of compensation for an unrelated joint space venture (Sea Launch) it had with the Russian company that also builds Soyuz (Energia).

Cassada, a Navy commander and test pilot, joined the astronaut corps in 2013; the launch will be his first.

"Both contractors have said that their schedules are aggressive and they set ambitious-rather than realistic-dates, only to frequently delay them", says Cristina Chaplain, the GAO director who provides oversight for NASA, including the Commercial Crew program. Boeing most recently suffered a problem while testing its emergency abort system and its first test flight has been delayed until at least mid-2019.

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