Sunita Williams among 9 astronauts to fly on US' first private spaceships

04 August 2018, 03:26 PM
Sunita Williams among 9 astronauts to fly on US' first private spaceships (Photo: Twitter/NASA)
Sunita Williams among 9 astronauts to fly on US' first private spaceships (Photo: Twitter/NASA)

Yet another moment of dignity encompasses the Indian soil. Sunita Williams, the Indian origin US astronaut, will be among the nine astronauts who would fly the first missions into space on commercially provided rockets and capsules, beginning 2019.

The vehicle development took years of building appreciation for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to finally put the crew in commercial crew spacecraft. The Space Agency further made an official announcement on Friday that the first launch will be carried out by nine astronauts. The Boeing Company and SpaceX have developed the test flights and the missions of latest commercial spacecraft will be operated by them.

“Future Commercial Crew astronauts will be riding to space on partner vehicle built by SpaceX & BoeingSpace,” NASA stated in a tweet.

According to a statement released by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine during the announcement of ‘Launch America’, they are on the verge of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil.

Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Dragoncapsules will carry eight active NASA astronauts and one former astronaut-turned-corporate crew member to the International Space Station starting next year.

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

Bridenstine further added to his statement that the country’s dreams of greater achievements in space are within their grasp. A new era will be marked with the launch of this proficient group of American astronauts who will be flying on new spacecraft designed and developed by the commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX. According to him, this announcement advances the great American Vision and strengthens America’s leadership in space.

NASA has endeavoured that systems meet their specific safety and performance requirements by complementing with the companies during design, development and testing.

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Mark Geyer, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said in his statement that the men and women they have assigned to these first flights will be at the forefront of this thrilling new time for human spaceflight. It will be fun and adventurous to see the astronauts take off from American soil and worth a wait to see them aboard the International Space Station.

52-year-old Williams will be accompanied by Josh Cassada, 45, on NASA’s first contracted Starliner mission. Cassada will be entering the spaceflight for the first time, whereas Indian pride Sunita Willians has already logged 321 days in orbit on two stays aboard the space station, most recently returning to the Earth in 2012. Other astronauts that will join are Robert Behnken, 48, and Douglas Hurley, 51, as SpaceX’s first Dragon crew.

Behnken and Hurley, veterans of two spaceflights each, will lift off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A. This was the same Florida launch pad where the space shuttle left Earth for the last time in July 2011 with Hurley as a pilot.

53-year-old Eric Boe and 41-year-old Nicole Mann will also join the commander of that same final space shuttle mission, along with former astronaut and now Boeing executive Christopher Ferguson, 56, as the crew of the Starliner test flight, launching atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Ferguson, who has been a part of the Starliner’s development, holds an experience of flying three shuttle missions as a NASA astronaut. Boe too piloted two shuttle flight. Mann was affiliated with astronaut corps in 2013 while this will be her inaugural flight.

While Behnken, Hurley, Boe and Mann will be NASA’s first astronauts to be named to the test flights of new U.S. spacecraft since the March 1978 announcement of the space shuttle’s first orbital flight test crew, Ferguson will be flagging as the first former NASA astronaut to make a comeback to orbit as a company’s crew member when he flies.

Boeing and SpaceX are planning uncrewed test flights later this year of early 2019, prior to their inaugural crewed missions. The companies will also ensure astronauts’ safe escape in case their rockets go awry by conducting abort system test flights.

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Victor Glover, 42, and Michael Hopkins, 49, will launch on the premier operational mission of SpaceX’s crewed Dragon. While it will be Glover’s first time in space, Hopkins has previously logged 166 days aboard the space station in 2014.

The two pairs of NASA crewmates will be accompanied to the station by Russian cosmonauts and international astronauts, to be announced at a later date. Amid the closure of the space shuttle program and beginning of commercial crew operations, NASA’s crew members have and are continuing to launch to the space station on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The missions initiated by Boeing’s and SpaceX’s commercial spacecraft may be a gateway to the space station -  and more broadly, Earth orbit – to welcome privately-funded visitors and spaceflight participants from nations that do not have their own domestic crewed spacecraft and rockets.

First Published: Saturday, August 04, 2018 02:34 PM
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