HOUSTON — On August 3d, 2018, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine introduced the American Astronauts who will be the first to fly US space vehicles into orbit since 2011. The Astronauts are Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Douglas Hurley, Robert Behnken, Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover. NASA retired US Space Shuttles Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavor from spaceflight in 2011 and US Astronauts have ridden Russian Soyuz spacecraft since then. Boeing and SpaceX have each designed and tested space vehicles for the Commercial Crew Program which will launch Astronauts into orbit from US soil.
The US was the first nation to land humans on the Moon and return them safely to Earth 49 years ago, in July 1969. From then until 2011, the US lead the world in uncrewed space exploration and crewed space flight, sending probes to all the planets and leading construction of the International Space Station (ISS). For the US to turn to its Russian rivals and their 1970s-era Soyuz spacecraft to carry American Astronauts into orbit, tarnished the national pride just a bit. American Astronauts once again piloting spacecraft designed and built in the USA, from American soil to orbit, will polish some of that tarnished national pride.
“The health of NASA and American space exploration is as strong as it’s ever been and getting stronger every day,” NASA Administrator Bridenstine acknowledged the Trump Administration and gratefully thanked US Senators and US Representatives who “make that happen.” The Commercial Crew Program began during the Obama Administration.
Bridenstine introduced the Astronauts who will fly the Boeing CST-100 first. Eric Boe, Christopher Ferguson, and Nicole Aunapu Mann will test pilot the Boeing spacecraft into orbit. Sunita Williams, a former ISS Commander, and Josh Cassada will be the first US crew to fly the CST-100 to the ISS.
Following the CST-100 Astronauts introductions came the SpaceX crews. Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, both test pilots and former Space Shuttle astronauts, will take the Crew Dragon into orbit in April 2019. Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins will pilot the Crew Dragon to the ISS later next year.
The CEO of Boeing’s space division and Space X President took the stage along with the NASA brass and their respective Astronauts. Boeing space division CEO Leanne Caret took the podium briefly and spoke as though it was just another day of achievements for Boeing. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell photographed of her Astronauts from the podium with clear and genuine excitement. Shotwell enthusiastically thanked Elon Musk and announced her scheduled flight dates. Shotwell confirmed a scheduled uncrewed test flight of the Crew Dragon from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Nov 2018 and a crewed launch in April next year. Boeing plans to conduct CST-100 uncrewed and crewed launches during 2019.
Absent from the proceedings: Lockheed-Martin and Blue Origin. Neither Lockheed-Martin nor Blue Origin are participating in Commercial Crew Program. The Commercial Crew Program task was to take Astronauts to ISS and back to Earth. As lead contractor for the NASA Orion space vehicle, Lockheed-Martin is designing a vehicle that will fly to much higher orbits than the ISS. Blue Origin, developer of private vehicles for space tourism, will not have ISS on it’s destination list, at least not immediately.
Views expressed in this piece are my own and should not be confused with those of my employers, the University of Texas, the Texas National Guard, NASA or any other institution with its own external communications department.