Sunday, 21 October, 2018

NASA reveals crews for first flights of commercial spaceships

Sounds of NASA’s Robotic Operations Center NASA will name 1st astronauts to fly commercial spacecraft to International Space Station
Sandy Nunez | 04 August, 2018, 18:54

The aviation companies will be conducting test flights at the end of this year and next, and astronauts will leave for the worldwide space station Cape Canaveral in Florida next spring or summer.

Not only will the manned test flights be the first time astronauts fly to the space station aboard commercial spacecraft, but they will also be the first launch of "American astronauts on American-made spacecraft from American soil" since NASA retired its space shuttle program in 2011, the space agency said. NASA astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Aunapu Mann, along with Boeing's company astronaut Christopher Ferguson, will fly on the Boeing Starliner test flight.

All of the nine astronauts are now taking questions in a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" session that started shortly after the announcement.

"The men and women we assign to these first flights are at the forefront of this exciting new time for human spaceflight", Mark Geyer, director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston said in a statement.

NASA paid seed money to SpaceX and Boeing to incentivize them to develop the crew capsules, picking up where the shuttle program left off.

In this illustration, a Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is shown in low-Earth orbit. Each test flight will provide data on the performance of the rockets, spacecraft, ground systems, and operations to ensure the systems are safe to fly astronauts.

In an interview, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine compared the crews to the Mercury astronauts, the seven test pilots featured in "The Right Stuff", who flew at the dawn of the Space Age. Ms. Williams previously logged 321 days in orbit on two stays aboard the space station, most recently returning to the Earth in 2012.

The eight NASA astronauts will also be joined by a Boeing astronaut.

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A recent mission abort by Boeing resulted from leaking engine fuel, and United States astronauts have until now taken Russian Federation capsules to the space station - at a cost of up to $82m for a seat.

Josh Cassada, 45, will fly with Sunita ("Suni") Williams, 52, aboard NASA's first contracted Starliner mission.

The astronauts assignments will be for both the test flights of Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon, which won't dock with the ISS, as well as the first post-certification missions for both private companies, which will head to the space station.

Veteran station flight engineer Mike Hopkins will be accompanied by rookie astronaut Victor Glover on the Crew Dragon's first operational flight to the station.

After announcing the crews, Bridenstine engaged in a largely lighthearted question-and-answer session with the selected astronauts, who expressed their delight in being selected and anticipation in flying on these next-generation vehicles.

Maintaining the International Space Station costs the federal government up to $4 billion a year, and NASA is working on plans to privatize it.

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

Both Boeing and SpaceX are slightly behind schedule when it comes to their crew vehicles.