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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

NASA shuffles astronaut crew assignments amid ongoing Boeing delays

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Two NASA astronauts initially slated to launch on an upcoming flight of Boeing’s new Starliner spacecraft have been reassigned to an upcoming SpaceX flight instead, as delays proceed to push again Starliner’s subsequent flight to house. Astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada have been imagined to be among the many first human passengers on Starliner throughout its first crewed flights within the coming years. Now, they’ll fly collectively on SpaceX’s fifth crewed mission to the Worldwide House Station, which is slated to happen within the fall of 2022.

Mann and Cassada have been first assigned to fly on Starliner in 2018. Mann was imagined to fly on the Starliner’s first crewed take a look at flight, together with Michael Fincke and Butch Wilmore — a essential take a look at to show that Starliner is protected to hold individuals. Cassada was slated to fly on the following flight after Mann’s, Starliner’s first official crewed mission, which additionally consists of NASA astronauts Sunita Williams and Jeanette Epps. Each Mann and Cassada are rookie astronauts, whereas most of the different Boeing flyers have been to house earlier than, aside from Epps.

Nevertheless, it’s unclear when any of those Starliner missions will happen, as Boeing continues to be engaged on a valve drawback with the spacecraft. With no sign of ending for the repair, NASA seemingly shuffled round crew assignments in order that Mann and Cassada might get their first style of house sooner relatively than later. “Nicole and Josh have carried out an amazing job pioneering the coaching and path ahead for astronauts to fly on Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft,” Kathy Lueders, affiliate administrator of the house operations at NASA, mentioned in an announcement. “They’ve gained expertise that they are going to take ahead as they prepare to fly in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and serve aboard the Worldwide House Station.” The reassignment was first reported by Ars Technica on Tuesday.

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Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada
Picture: NASA

Starliner is a Boeing-built spacecraft, designed to take passengers to and from the Worldwide House Station as a part of NASA’s Business Crew Program. The automobile is one in every of two made for this system; the opposite is SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which launched its first crew of astronauts in Could 2020. As a part of the event course of, NASA needed every firm to launch its automobile on an uncrewed take a look at flight, adopted by a take a look at flight with crew on board.

Up to now, Starliner has solely flown as soon as with out passengers on board, and its debut flight didn’t go to plan. Throughout its launch, the spacecraft suffered multiple software glitches, which finally prevented the automobile from reaching the orbit it wanted to realize to fulfill up with the Worldwide House Station. Boeing was in a position to deliver the spacecraft again to Earth safely, however NASA launched an investigation into the flight, arising with a complete of 80 corrective actions the company needed Boeing to take earlier than continuing. NASA and Boeing agreed that the corporate would get a do-over mission, wherein Starliner would launch once more with out individuals on board.

Nevertheless, it’s nonetheless an open query when that redo will happen. Boeing hoped to fly a passenger-less Starliner again this summer and even acquired as shut as stacking the spacecraft on prime of an Atlas V rocket on the launchpad. However the launch needed to be postponed simply hours earlier than liftoff after Boeing discovered issues with some of Starliner’s propulsion valves. Finally the corporate took Starliner off its rocket and transported it back to the factory to take a deeper look. There hasn’t been a strong replace on when the difficulty might be mounted.

“We perceive the company’s must make changes to get members of the present astronaut class flying expertise on an operational automobile whereas the event of the Starliner spacecraft continues,” Boeing mentioned of the astronaut reassignment in an announcement to The Verge. “We totally assist NASA’s choices and stay dedicated to placing the security of the astronauts who will fly on our automobile first.”

In the meantime, SpaceX efficiently accomplished its take a look at flights with Crew Dragon and has already carried out two full passenger missions to the house station, launching a complete of 10 astronauts to the ISS. The corporate’s subsequent mission, referred to as Crew-3, is slated for takeoff on October thirtieth. SpaceX can also be slated to deliver residence its second group of passengers, Crew-2, from the house station in mid-November.

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