Published: Tue, August 07, 2018
Research | By Raquel Erickson

NASA names crews and dates for first USA commercial missions

NASA names crews and dates for first USA commercial missions

The first USA astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station, waving after being announced, (left to right) Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, Nicole Aunapu Mann, Chris Ferguson, Eric Boe, Josh Cassada, and Suni Williamson at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas on August 3. NASA's last space shuttle mission, the STS-135 flight coincidently commanded by Boeing's Ferguson, flew in July 2011.

The assignments will come from among a list of four astronauts who have already been training for the commercial crew program - Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams - all of whom have been on previous missions to the International Space Station. "Today's announcement advances our great American vision and strengthens the nation's leadership in space". 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 U.S. from Estonia just before the Second World War. He flew on Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2008 with fellow Georgia Tech graduates Sandy Magnus and Shane Kimbrough.

"NASA's Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to USA soil, providing safe, reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety and mission requirements", said the official blog.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Government Accountability Office recommended NASA pursue a backup plan for getting astronauts to the ISS, as its contract with Russian Federation to send them to the station via Soyuz launches in Kazakhstan ends at the close of 2019. 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. Just as in the past, all human launches will originate here on the space coast.


Chris Ferguson, a former NASA astronaut who has worked with Boeing as it developed its Starliner spacecraft, will fly as a private astronaut. Josh Cassada and Sunita Williams will crew the Starliner's first mission, while Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins will fly aboard the Crew Dragon first mission. Therefore, it's essential that Crew Dragon and Starliner be ready for operational flights by the 2020 deadline. Mann was selected as an astronaut in 2013. She has logged 322 days in space. It won't be the first time SpaceX trounces Boeing.

More astronauts will be announced to join the crews at a later date, Nasa said. In any case, SpaceX is now the presumed leader of the race to capture the flag left on the station by the final space shuttle crew-a flag that has been waiting to return to Earth for eight years and counting. SpaceX is trying to fix design issues with gas vessels and cracks in its engine turbines, and it's working to ensure that its rocket fueling process-which calls for filling the rockets while astronauts are on board-is sufficiently safe. The test flights with crew will take place mid-2019, NASA said. Mr. Hopkins logged 166 days aboard the space station in 2014.

Ferguson works as director of Crew and Mission Systems for Boeing - he's been dubbed the first "corporate astronaut".

Seven men and four women will be go into orbit on crew capsules built by Boeing and SpaceX. The department released an alarming report that indicated the agency could see its Commercial Crew Program delayed resulting in a loss of access to the International Space Station (ISS) for nine months or possibly more. "We're not going to let you down".

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