Boeing and SpaceX were awarded a $6 billion contract three years ago to develop spacecraft to become the replacement vehicles to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Those spacecraft, SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's CST-100, are now months away from their first uncrewed test flights from Cape Canaveral.
On the left, NASA astronaut Suni Williams, fully suited in SpaceX's spacesuit, uses the display inside a mock-up of the Crew Dragon spacecraft in Hawthorne, Calif., during a testing exercise on April 3.
NASA on Friday is scheduled to announce the crews of the first flights to fly from United States soil since the space shuttle retired in 2011, an elite group of astronauts that the agency hopes will help open a new era of space travel.
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"NASA's Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to US soil, providing safe, reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety and mission requirements", said the official blog. They will undoubtedly be part of the crew because they are veterans and have assisted Boeing and SpaceX for the last three years - while the companies worked on their spacecraft and systems.
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NASA also revealed that the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft "packed with science and hardware" will return to Earth on Friday from the International Space Station.
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Among the options being considered by NASA is to use the crewed flight test as a crew rotation flight by adding a third astronaut to the mission and extending its stay from two weeks to as long as six months.
SpaceX has not publicly revised its Crew Dragon schedule. Boeing also connected the upper and lower domes of its Crew Flight Test spacecraft and attached its docking system in June. Those engines are created to power up if the launch rocket suffers a mishap and would eject the Starliner crew capsule to a safe distance. In its report, the GAO said NASA's projected "average" certification date for Boeing was December 2019, and January 2020 for SpaceX, with the potential for both companies to slip well into 2020.
Boeing had planned to start with the pad abort test, which would make use of a "pusher" rocket system created to throw the capsule clear of its launch vehicle in the event of an emergency. The two front-runners to emerge were SpaceX and Boeing.
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The Expedition 56 crew has finished loading Dragon with sensitive research results and station gear for analysis and refurbishment back on Earth.
Once the uncrewed flight tests are complete and the data reviews have validated the spacecraft systems, NASA astronauts will have their first opportunity to fly in the spacecraft. "We want to do some climate science, but we aren't going to do some of the insane stuff that the previous administration did", he said.
Boeing has already identified the problems, and "our team is off fixing those problems", Mulholland said.
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