Tuesday, 18 December, 2018

NASA to announce new astronaut class on Friday

In this illustration a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft approaches the International Space Station for docking NASA will name 1st astronauts to fly commercial spacecraft to International Space Station
Sandy Nunez | 07 August, 2018, 12:53

NASA on Friday named four crews of astronauts that it says will begin "a new era in American spaceflight" by flying the first commercial spaceships, built by Boeing and SpaceX, in a series of test launches.

Set to command what is scheduled to be NASA's first launch of astronauts from US soil in seven years is Chris Ferguson, a 56-year-old Philly-born space explorer.

"Space has transformed the American way of life", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein said at the event. - Alan Shepard, John Young are some of America's first explorers into the great unknown, but Friday NASA will announce who will be America's next space pioneers.

The first U.S. astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station. Among the three astronauts selected for Boeing's Starliner test flight is Nicole Aunapu Mann - a California native whose grandfather, Helmuth Aunapu, emigrated to the United States from Estonia just before the Second World War. Behnken, Boe and Hurley have each flown two shuttle missions, logging four weeks in space apiece.

The announcement is a major development after years of obstacles in sending crews to space.

The astronauts - named at a buoyant event held at Johnson Space Center in Houston - will be the first to launch from USA soil since NASA retired its space shuttle programin 2011.

The return of crew flights to USA soil will end NASA's politically inconvenient reliance on Russian Federation for transporting astronauts to the ISS. Ever since her selection as an astronaut (1998), Williams has been twice aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and also held record for total spacewalks by a woman and most spacewalk time for a woman. Since then, NASA has been dependent on Russia's Soyuz rockets and spacecraft, paying upward of $70 million per seat to fly Americans to and from the ISS. The 1997 electrical engineering master's recipient has been selected by NASA to fly aboard Boeing's first commercial crew flight test, which is expected to lift off from Florida in the middle of 2019.

On the first operational mission to the International Space Station, Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada would fly for Boeing.

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The latter was confirmed by SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk himself who responded to an article regarding the tentative flight schedules on Twitter. Boe was selected by NASA to be an astronaut in 2000. With 322 days in space, Williams is sixth all-time on NASA's spaceflight endurance list and second all-time among female astronauts. It won't be the first time SpaceX trounces Boeing.

The first SpaceX mission to the ISS will be manned by Victor Glover, another newbie, and Mike Hopkins, who has already spent 166 days on the sky-high lab during two tours of duty.

NASA has spent billions developing the Space Launch System and its first flight, scheduled for 2020, will send an uncrewed capsule around the moon and back. Mr. Ferguson will become the first former NASA astronaut to return to orbit as a company's crew member when he flies. The spacecraft will dock and undock autonomously to the space station before flying their crew back to Earth.

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".

The move marks a significant shift in the US space program, which will now combine NASA-trained astronauts with private sector space capsules.

But NASA's options may be limited by the global agreements that established the station in 1998. "We won't let you down".

The SpaceX Dragon capsule, on current timelines, is set to make its maiden crewed flight in April.