In a rare move, NASA has reassigned two astronauts from future missions on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon as part of a crew rotation strategy. Both companies are developing commercial crew transportation systems with NASA funding and technical support for the purpose of restoring America’s ability to launch American astronauts aboard American rockets from American soil. In
2014, NASA announced a commercial crew transportation contract with SpaceX and Boeing to help build a new fleet of spacecraft designed for transporting humans between Earth and the International Space Station. While SpaceX has successfully launched two uncrewed test flights of its Crew Dragon vehicle in 2018, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner program has been stuck at the launch pad since March with the company yet to reach orbit.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket for uncrewed test flights in 2018. (NASA)
By July, SpaceX had successfully conducted an uncrewed test flight of its Crew Dragon spacecraft and in March 2019 conducted NASA’s first ever Crew Dragon demo, with astronauts on board. Meanwhile, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner was grounded at the launch pad until around the same time in March after catastrophic engine failure during a test of its emergency abort system in June 2018. The crewed flight is now set to follow SpaceX’s earlier uncrewed demonstration in April.
The Crew Dragon Demo 1. SpaceX)
NASA has since signed a contract with the Russian space agency Roscosmos for three additional Soyuz seats to ensure a continued American presence aboard the ISS past 2019 – when NASA was previously scheduled to end its support of the facility – and until 2024. The arrangement not only ensures a fellow partner in spaceflight, but also a steady revenue stream for Russia’s struggling space program.
SpaceX and Boeing are both working to launch their Crew Dragon and CST-100 Starliner spacecraft from Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A before the end of 2019. (NASA)
For this reason, NASA was forced to make the unfortunate decision to reassign astronauts from future Boeing and SpaceX crew rotation missions. According to a statement released by NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, the decision will not affect the schedule for flights as both companies are still on track to fly in 2019. The issue was primarily taken into consideration due to safety concerns
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine personally asked both SpaceX and Boeing to have their first crew rotation missions flown before the end of 2019. (NASA)
for our astronauts, said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine who also stated Reliability is one of the most important factors for NASA as we continue to launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil. We owe it to our brave astronauts who will fly on future missions to provide them with the safest possible flight.
Both companies are still on track to fly in 2019, according to NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. (NASA)
We are confident in our commercial partners and firmly stand behind their demonstrated performance, said Chri Ferguson, former NASA astronaut and current director of Crew Mission Management at Boeing. We are enthusiastic about the continued development of CST-100 Starliner to launch American astronauts on American rockets once again from American soil later this year.