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NASA Commercial Crew Astronauts Will Have To Wait Until 2020 To Launch From U.S.

Nine U.S. astronauts selected for commercial crew flight assignments gathered at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas on Aug. 2 ahead of the announcement Aug. 3. From left NASA astronauts Suni Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Mann, Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, Bob Behnken, Mike Hopkins and Victor Glover were assigned to the first test flights and operational missions for Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.

NASA astronauts will have to wait until next year to launch to the International Space Station from Florida. 

NASA is partnering with private companies SpaceX and Boeing to launch astronauts to the station from the U.S. — a first since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.

While SpaceX was targeting a possible launch this year, delays in testing and certifying its Crew Dragon capsule will extend into next year. Boeing has faced its own challenges preparing for the mission, including issues with a critical safety test of the Starliner capsule’s abort system.

“We’re very confident that in the first part of next year, we will be ready to launch American astronauts on American rockets,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine from SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California headquarters.

“In the coming months, we are going to have hardware delivered to [Cape Canaveral] and to the Kennedy Space Center. Between now and then there’s a lot that needs to be done.”

SpaceX successfully launched its uncrewed Dragon capsule to the station earlier this year. It still has an in-flight abort test and a handful of parachute tests before launching the capsule with astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken onboard.

Hardware for SpaceX’s high-altitude, in-flight abort test has arrived at Kennedy Space Center. A Falcon 9 will launch the Crew Dragon capsule from the Space Coast. Mid-flight, SpaceX will test the capsule’s abort system which is responsible for pushing the astronauts and capsule away from the booster should something happen mid-flight.

Boeing said it is targeting a safety test of the Starliner’s abort system November 4 and an uncrewed mission to the station December 17. Once certified, Boeing will launch NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and Nicole Mann, along with Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, on a mission to the station.

Since the end of the shuttle program, NASA has relied on rides to the Space Station on Russia’s Soyuz space capsule. With those seats running out, NASA must decide whether to buy additional Soyuz seats or extend the planned crewed Commercial Crew flights.


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Brendan Byrne

About Brendan Byrne

Space Reporter and 'Intersection' Producer

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts "Are We There Yet?", WMFE's space exploration podcast He also helps produce WMFE's twice-weekly public affairs show "Intersection," working with host Matthew Peddie to shape the ... Read Full Bio »

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