NASA reassigns Starliner crew members to SpaceX Crew-5 mission

NASA announced on Wednesday the first two members to fly on SpaceX‘s Crew-5 mission to the International Space Station. The crew members were reassigned from Boeing’s planned first two flights on Starliner, which doesn’t seem to be launching anytime soon.

Boeing crew reassigned to SpaceX mission

NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada will be SpaceX Crew-5’s spacecraft commander and pilot, respectively. The reassigned astronauts have been training to fly Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft on its first two crew missions, but delays now mean they will fly with SpaceX. Originally, Mann was the mission specialist for Boeing’s Crewed Flight Test, and Cassada was the pilot for the Boeing-1 (the first operational mission).

The launch of Crew-5 is planned for the fall of 2022 and will be Mann and Cassada’s first spaceflight. Both astronauts come from Astronaut Group 21, which was announced in 2013. They are the final two from the group who have not yet flown in space.

SpaceX Crew-2 launch streaking crossing the Florida night sky. Credit: Jared Locke / Space Explored

Possibility of Russian cosmonaut joining to crew

Commercial Crew Program manager Steve Stich stated he was just in Moscow working on getting Roscosmos ready to launch a cosmonaut on SpaceX’s Crew-5 mission. Russia hasn’t promised anything yet, but next fall is NASA’s goal.

During the Space Shuttle era, NASA and Roscosmos had a deal to trade seats on Russian Soyuz and American Shuttle launches. Since the Space Shuttle’s retirement in 2011, NASA has been purchasing seats from Russia to continue its human presence in orbit. Now with SpaceX’s success in launching their Dragon spacecraft, NASA hopes to return to that deal.

Continued technical delays plaguing Starliner launch timeline

The reassignment of Boeing Starliner’s crew means that further delays are expected to come for the new spacecraft. On a call with the media, Stich confirmed that Starliner’s Orbital Flight Test-2 mission will be delayed to early 2022. This gives Boeing and NASA time to figure out the root cause of the sticky valves that scrubbed the attempt a few months ago.

Boeing Starliner getting lifted onto its Atlas V rocket. This rocket is not being used for NASA’s Lucy mission. Credit: ULA

Stich reiterated that NASA has “not lost confidence in the Boeing team.” While the company seems to have fallen on their face in recent years, they are still one of the longest-running partners with NASA, dating back to its beginning.

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