A quartet of experienced astronauts have been selected by NASA to work along with SpaceX and The Boeing Company as they prepare for the first-ever American commercial spaceflights, officials from the US space agency announced on Thursday.
The astronauts are Robert Behnken, who was selected as a NASA astronaut in July 2000 and was a member of the STS-123 and STS-130 space shuttle mission crews; Eric Boe, who spent more than 28 days in space as part of the STS-126 and STS-133 missions; Douglas Hurley, who was a member of the last flight of the Space Shuttle program; and Sunita Williams, who has spent a total of 322 days in space and currently holds the record for total cumulative spacewalk time by a female astronaut (50 hours and 40 minutes). Here’s an introduction:
Behnken, Boe, Hurley, and Williams will work closely with both of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program partners to develop their crew transportation systems and to provide crew transportation services to and from the International Space Station. They will be training and preparing for the forthcoming commercial spaceflights that will return NASA launches to US soil for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttle.
The mission: ensure crew, vehicles are ready for launch
According to Engadget, NASA’s contracts with Boeing and SpaceX require a minimum of one crewed flight test involving at least one agency-approved astronaut on board to help verify that the vehicle can launch, maneuver in orbit, dock to the ISS, validate that all systems perform as expected, and land safely.
At the same time, both firms will need to provide training to their crew members to ensure that they are ready for liftoff. Once SpaceX and Boeing pass NASA’s various tests, they will send between two and six crew rotation missions to the ISS, each carrying four crew members and a minimum of 200.5 pounds of cargo in shuttle journeys, the website added.
In a statement, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, “I am pleased to announce four American space pioneers have been selected to be the first astronauts to train to fly to space on commercial crew vehicles, all part of our ambitious plan to return space launches to U.S. soil, create good-paying American jobs and advance our goal of sending humans farther into the solar system than ever before. These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail – a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars.”
“We are excited to have such an experienced group of astronauts working with the Commercial Crew Program, Boeing and SpaceX and ultimately flying on the companies’ flight test missions,” added Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders. “Naming these astronauts is a key step forward and consistent with past approaches to involve the crew in the design and development of new systems.”