The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced the names of the U.S. astronauts who will fly to and from the International Space Station (ISS) on American-made, commercial spacecraft. Boeing and SpaceX created the spacecraft: Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. Both companies cooperated closely with NASA during the design, development, and testing of these vessels. Not since the space shuttle retired in 2011 have astronauts launched from U. S. soil.
“The new spaceflight capability provided by Boeing and SpaceX will allow NASA to maintain a crew of seven astronauts on the space station, thereby maximizing scientific research that leads to breakthroughs and also aids in understanding and mitigating the challenges of long-duration spaceflight.” As the late Robert A. Heinlein told Congress when he testified before the Select Committee on Aging and the Committee on Science and Technology in 1979, the space program has paid for itself through its many spin-offs in medical and computer technology. Sending more astronauts to the International Space Station will mean more research, which will improve scientific growth and the American economy.
The Starliner test flight astronauts are Colonel Eric Boe, USAF, Captain Christopher Ferguson, USN, and Lieutenant Colonel Nicole Aunapu Mann, USMC. Col. Boe has piloted the space shuttle twice: Endeavour for the STS-126 mission and Discovery‘s final flight, the STS-133 mission. Captain Ferguson retired from NASA In 2011, after piloting Atlantis for STS-115 and commanding Endeavour for STS-126 and Atlantis for STS-135. He retired from NASA in 2011. He came out of retirement for this mission. Lt. Col. Mann is an F/A-18 test pilot. She has been training as an astronaut for five years, but this will be her first trip into space. She has an MS in Mechanical Engineering.
The Crew Dragon will have only two in its test crew, Col. Robert Behnken, USAF, and Col. Robert Hurley, USMC. Both have piloted the space shuttle Endeavor. Dr. Behnken (he has a doctorate in mechanical engineering) piloted Endeavor twice, for the STS-123 and STS-130 missions. He has been on six spacewalks. Hurley piloted Atlantis for mission STS-135, under Captain Ferguson’s command.
THE FIRST MISSION CREWS
The astronauts for the first mission of the Starliner after testing will be Captain Sunita Williams, USN, and Commander Josh Cassada, USN. Captain Williams has not only spent 322 days aboard the ISS, but commanded it for a time. A former Navy test pilot, she has made seven spacewalks. Like Williams, Cassada is also a Navy test pilot. He has a Ph.D. in Physics and this will be his first trip into space.
The crew of Crew Dragon‘s first mission will be Col. Michael Hopkins, USAF, and Cmdr. Victor Glover, USN. Hopkins has spent 166 days aboard the ISS. Glover, who has three separate master’s degrees in Flight Test Engineering, Systems Engineering and Military Operational Art and Science, will be making his first trip into space.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said, “Today, our country’s dreams of greater achievements in space are within our grasp. 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. Today’s announcement advances our great American vision and strengthens the nation’s leadership in space.”
With NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, Boeing, Space X, and eventually other American companies are developing a U.S. commercial crew for space transportation. This will permit American astronauts to safely go to the ISS without the assistance of Russian cosmonauts. NASA has contracted six missions each with Boeing and Space X, with up to four astronauts per mission. The dates for these missions have not yet been announced. NASA hopes “the public-private partnerships fostered by the program will stimulate growth in a robust commercial space industry and spark life-changing innovations for future generations.” This could someday mean an L-5 station, a lunar colony, or Martian exploration.
To quote Stan Lee, excelsior!