NASA stated today (Oct. 6) that two astronauts who were initially scheduled to fly Boeing’s launch vehicle will now go to space in a SpaceX spacecraft instead. NASA has reallocated astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada to SpaceX’s Crew-5 mission, which is scheduled to fly to the ISS no later than the autumn of 2022. Mann and Cassada were both preparing to pilot Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, for the rocket’s first crewed test launch to the orbital laboratory.
It’s unknown when either of those Boeing missions will take place; Starliner must first complete an uncrewed test voyage to the space station before it can transport humans. The capsule attempted its maiden trial mission in December 2019, but various problems hindered a planned rendezvous with the orbiting lab. Boeing had intended to perform Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2) in late July of this year, however, they identified an issue with several valves in Starliner’s propulsion system. The valve discrepancy has not been fixed, and NASA officials have stated that OFT-2 may postpone its launch until 2022.
However, SpaceX has already flown one manned test flight and 2 operational flights to the orbital laboratory using its Falcon-9 rocket as well as Crew Dragon capsule, and the firm is preparing to launch Crew-3, its third contractual voyage, later in the month. (Both Boeing and SpaceX received multibillion-dollar agreements with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program in 2014.) “NASA felt it was critical to reschedule the initial flight plan to enable Boeing time to finish the construction of Starliner while completing preparations for astronauts to obtain spaceflight training for its future operations,” NASA officials announced in a statement today.
“Cross-training on both projects is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to learn while also providing vital knowledge to future crews flying these spaceships,” he added in the same statement. “Of course, Nicole and I are ecstatic to be working onboard the International Space Station, carrying out present activities, while also contributing to possible future research beyond low Earth orbit,” stated Josh.