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NASA reveals crews for first flights of commercial spaceships

NASA introduces the astronauts assigned to the first flights of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. Credit: NASA TV/Spaceflight Now

NASA announced Friday a mix of spaceflight veterans and rookie astronauts who will launch on the first flights of new Boeing and SpaceX commercial spaceships starting as soon as next spring, several months later than previously scheduled.

In a ceremony at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, the space agency revealed nine astronauts assigned to the first four crewed flights of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsules.

Former shuttle commander Chris Ferguson, who helmed the final flight of the shuttle Atlantis in 2011, will lead a three-person crew on the first piloted mission of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule. Ferguson, now a Boeing employee, will be joined by veteran shuttle pilot Eric Boe and rookie astronaut Nicole Mann on the CST-100’s Crew Test Flight, scheduled for liftoff in 2019.

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. NASA astronaut Bob Behnken, an experienced spacewalker who flew on two shuttle missions, will strap into the Crew Dragon alongside former shuttle pilot Doug Hurley.

Both capsules will fly to the International Space Station on their first crewed test flights, blazing a trail for future crews to ride to and from the orbiting research complex on operational crew rotation missions, ending NASA’s sole reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft for the job.

NASA also unveiled part of the crews who will ride the CST-100 and Crew Dragon’s first regular crew rotation flights, called “post-certification” missions by the space agency and its contractors.

On Boeing’s first post-certification mission, NASA astronaut Suni Williams, who has flown on the space station two times already, will fly to the outpost again with first-time space flier Josh Cassada.

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.

NASA’s partners on the International Space Station program — the Russian space agency Roscosmos, the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency — are expected to assign members of their own astronaut corps to the CST-100 and Crew Dragon crew rotation flights.

The space agency says each post-certification flight by the CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon spacecraft will carry four passengers on half-year expeditions to the space station. Boeing and Space Adventures, the U.S. company that arranged space tourist flights on Russian Soyuz spacecraft, have a partnership that could allow paying passengers to ride in a fifth seat on CST-100 missions for shorter-duration missions.

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