SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft to return to Earth

Boeing Starliner

NASA Announces First Crew for Commercial Space Travel

A NASA astronaut from Needham will be one of the first crew members to ever fly a commercial space craft to the International Space Station.

Besides Ferguson and Mann, the initial commercial crew members are: Eric Boe, Sunita Williams and John Cassada riding on Boeing.

The missions have an eminent role to play as they will become the first crewed launches from the US land since the space shuttle programme concluded in 2011.

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, 48, and Douglas Hurley, 51, will fly together as SpaceX's first Crew Dragon crew. Both companies had meant to conduct crewed test flights this year, but those are now scheduled for 2019.

"SpaceX is targeting November 2018 for Crew Dragon's first demonstration mission and April 2019 for Crew Dragon's second demonstration mission, which will carry two NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station", said Benji Reed, director of Crew Mission Management at SpaceX, in the statement.

NASA started the Commercial Crew Program in 2010, just before it retired the last space shuttle in July 2011.

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NASA has always been working on developing its commercial crew programme while it can focus on its space exploration projects, the report added. Since the shuttle fleet's retirement in 2011, the only spaceship cleared for carrying people to the station has been Russia's Soyuz spacecraft, and the ticket price for NASA is in the range of $80 million a seat.

This mission, now targeted for April 2019, will liftoff from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida with the astronauts aboard Crew Dragon atop a Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX's crew for the long-duration mission will include naval aviator Victor Glover, also a novice to spaceflight, and shuttle veteran Michael Hopkins. Similarly, the first Starliner is being now being outfitted for launch at Kennedy Space Center, and the test flight's Atlas V Centaur upper stage-never flown in the dual-engine configuration-ships to Florida in August. Dragons, meanwhile, will fly on SpaceX's own Falcon 9 rockets. The capsules, made by SpaceX and Boeing, will ferry the astronauts and cargo back and forth to the International Space Station.

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. NASA has contracted six missions, with as many as four astronauts per mission, for each company. Bridenstine asked some what they thought about the idea that they might have initially been heading to space from Russian Federation, but will now be on board USA -based launches. Boeing's Ferguson was pilot on STS-116 on board Space Shuttle Atlantis as well as commander of STS-126 on Space Shuttle Endeavour and the final flight of the space shuttle program, STS-135 on board Atlantis. "We had our quarterly [review] this week, and for the first time in years, it felt real".

"I'm sure there's at least one Russian-language instructor out there who thinks that having me fly in a US vehicle is not a awful idea", quipped Cassada. Ferguson is the only non-NASA astronaut. In any case, SpaceX is now the presumed leader of the race to capture the flag left on the station by the final space shuttle crew-a flag that has been waiting to return to Earth for eight years and counting.

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