In the wake of delays in the development of the Boeing Starliner, SpaceX is reassigning two of its astronauts from the Starliner to the SpaceX Crew Dragon. Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada will join the Crew-5 mission, which is set to launch in late 2022.
In a blog post on NASA’s website, the space agency cited the need to give Boeing extra time to develop the Starliner while also enabling their astronauts to gain valuable spaceflight experience as part of preparations for future NASA missions. Astronauts Butch Wilmore, Sunita Williams, and Mike Finck will continue to work with Boeing on the Starliner.
In a statement responding to NASA’s decision, Boeing said, “We fully support NASA’s decisions and remain committed to putting the safety of the astronauts who will fly on our vehicle first.”
So far, SpaceX is the only aerospace company with an operational, crew-rated spacecraft and a contract with the Commercial Crew program, having already completed two flights for NASA with a third still docked to the International Space Station. Boeing had planned to have its Starliner make an uncrewed test flight in August, but it was scrubbed due to issues with the valves in the spacecraft’s propulsion system. It plans to try again in early 2022.
Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have also flown people to the edge of space with their respective CEOs on board. Blue Origin is currently getting lots of PR out of its plan to fly Star Trek star William Shatner to the edge of space on October 12.
NASA conceived the Commercial Crew program as a response to the ending of the Space Shuttle program so that it could continue to fly its own astronauts to the International Space Station on privately owned spacecraft. SpaceX became the first to fly astronauts to the space station and back during the Demo-2 mission, which launched in May 2020, demonstrated the flightworthiness of the Crew Dragon, and collected data that enabled it to make improvements like shoring up some parts of the heat shield.
Its fourth crewed flight to the International Space Station, Crew-3, is scheduled for October 30. The crew will travel to the International Space Station on a brand-new Crew Dragon named Endurance.
SpaceX’s other flown Crew Dragons have flown at least twice apiece, with the Crew Dragon Resilience having most recently flown for the privately organized Inspiration4 mission. It plans to expand its fleet of Crew Dragons to at least six spacecraft to meet demand for crewed spaceflights from both NASA and private organizations like Axiom Space.
SpaceX often serves as a contractor or subcontractor for NASA, providing launch services for hardware like components for the Lunar Gateway, Europa Clipper, and robotic lunar landers built by companies like Firefly Aerospace for NASA. SpaceX and NASA are currently fighting a court battle against Blue Origin over the awarding of the crewed Artemis lunar lander contract.