NASA has revealed the nine astronauts who will man the first commercial spaceflights, as the United States prepares to once again begin launching manned missions after retiring the Space Shuttle.
“This is a big deal for our country, and we want Americans to know that we are back”, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said Friday. American astronauts have still traveled to space, but they’ve used Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft at a cost of about $80 million per seat.
The move marks a significant shift in the USA space program, which will now combine NASA-trained astronauts with private sector space capsules. The launch window for the mission opens at 3:48 a.m EDT on August 11, 2018.
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. That flight is now projected to lift off in April of 2019.
Also onboard will be Douglas Hurley, a former Marine Corps test pilot and colonel who joined NASA in 2000.
“As a test pilot it doesn’t get any better than this”, Mann told the audience, when asked about being the first to fly a new spacecraft.
“I’m just really excited we’re going to be able to take these spacecraft and show them off to our worldwide partners”, Williams told the crowd.
Williams has already taken two trips to the space station, commanded it, and racked up 322 days in space, second on the all-time list for female astronauts.
For SpaceX’s first flight to the ISS, the NASA crew will be Victor Glover on his first space flight and Mike Hopkins, who spent 166 days in space as part of Expedition 37/38.
It’s been a long trip for these astronauts.
3 the assignment of eight agency astronauts, a mix of veterans and rookies, as well as one company astronaut to fly on the first set of commercial crew missions by Boeing and SpaceX.
Boeing; Shayanne Gal/Business InsiderAn illustration of a NASA astronaut flying with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon space capsules.
More astronauts will be announced to join the crews at a later date, Nasa said. Those were Behnken, Boe, Hurley and Williams.
SpaceX, however, did move up the uncrewed test flight of its Dragon spacecraft from December to November of this year.
The announcement marks an important milestone for NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which has paid Boeing and SpaceX $6.8 billion since 2014.
NASA is now assigning crew members to these test missions, and will work with both companies and the Eastern range to clear launch dates that will allow all science investigations and other operations on the ISS will not be interrupted. “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”, Mr. Bridenstine said. “This is a test pilot’s dream”. Both vehicles are reusable. SpaceX has leased NASA’s historic Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida to launch Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. John Mulholland, vice president and program manager for Boeing’s Commercial Crew effort, explained that the earliest the company can “confidently” do a manned flight test will be in mid-2019. If successful, the crewed flight tests will follow hopefully leading to NASA certifications for crew rotation missions. Josh Cassada of the Navy, who will be making his first voyage into space.
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”.
But NASA’s options may be limited by the worldwide agreements that established the station in 1998.