In both cases, again assuming no major problems crop up, operational flights to ferry astronauts to and from the space station would begin after the test flights are complete, ending NASA's sole reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to carry U.S., European, Canadian and Japanese crew members to the lab.
While the space agency has remained secretive about who might get picked for the honor of taking the first rides on board Boeing's Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon, perhaps so as not to spoil the great surprise, NASA officials did tell the Business Insider that only astronauts who are not now assigned to a space mission are eligible for the test flights of the brand-new spacecraft.
"The resulting schedule that we have will support an uncrewed flight test in late 2018 or early 2019", Boeing vice president John Mulholland said. According to the updated timeline, SpaceX will conduct a manned Crew Dragon flight in April 2019.
"NASA is continuing to assess multiple scenarios to ensure continued USA access to the International Space Station", the space agency told Bloomberg. Space station officials from around the world gave the "go" on Thursday for Dragon's release from the orbital complex.
Who Will Be Part of the Commercial Crew?
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Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana will join Bridenstine and representatives from Boeing and SpaceX to introduce the crews.
These astronauts will be the first to launch on vehicles owned by commercial companies. Both companies have matured their designs, are making significant progress through their extensive testing campaigns, and are headed toward flight tests to validate their systems. The first flights were scheduled for 2018.
NASA's goal in collaborating with Boeing and SpaceX is to achieve safe, reliable and cost-effective transportation to and from station on the companies' spacecraft.
In March, SpaceX performed two parachute tests, the company's 14th and 15th overall parachute test supporting Crew Dragon development in the Mojave Desert in Southern California. "They're verifying crew layout, doing simulations where they're actually practicing their maneuvers, and also checking out the software and the display systems, and everything else for the crew to be functioning safely in the spacecraft". He had the opportunity to see a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket on the pad and check out the Crew Access Tower. It'll be equipped with four windows providing astronauts with breathtaking views of the Earth, our moon and the solar system.