NASA Selects Astronauts for First U.S. Commercial Space Flights

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Space Agency Names Four “Pioneers” to Train on new Spacecraft

NASA Selects Four astronauts to fly on commercial crew vehicle

Image: NASA

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden today announced the names of four astronauts who will fly on the first Commercial Crew Vehicles. The move was described by Bolden as part of NASA’s ambitious plans to return space launches to U.S. soil.

The four veteran astronauts chosen to fly are:

  • Robert Behnken
  • Sunita Williams
  • Eric Boe
  • Douglas Hurley

The Commercial Crew Program (CCP) aims to develop American commercial crew space transportation capability. Its ultimate goal is to achieve safe, reliable, and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station (ISS) and low-Earth orbit. Above all, the program is intended to eliminate, or at least reduce, America’s current reliance on Russian spacecraft.

Fiscally, NASA hopes the return of crew launches to U.S. soil will save a considerable amount of money per launch. According to Bolden, it currently costs $76 million per astronaut to fly on a Russian spacecraft. The goal of CCP is to reduce that figure to $58 million on American-owned spacecraft.

About the Astronauts

Astronaut Robert L Behnken

Colonel Robert L. Behnken
Image: NASA

Colonel Robert L. Behnken, USAF, hails from Missouri and has been with NASA since 2000. His spaceflight experience includes Space Shuttle flights on missions STS-123 and STS-130. He has logged over 708 hours in space, including more than 37 hours in six spacewalks.

On STS-123, Behnken launched aboard Endeavor on the 25th ISS assembly mission. Endeavor’s crew delivered the first component of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Kibo Laboratory and the final element of Dextre, the station’s Canadian-built Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator. Behnken served as Mission Specialist 1 for ascent and entry, performed three spacewalks, served as the Internal Spacewalk Coordinator (IV), and operated both the station robotic arm and the Dextre robot.

On STS-130, again aboard Endeavor, Behnken and his fellow astronauts delivered Node 3 and the Cupola, a seven-window observation portal for observing the Earth and space, to ISS. Colonel Behnken served as Mission Specialist 4, operated the space station robotic arm, served as the spacewalking lead, and performed three spacewalks.

Captain Sunita L. Williams Image: NASA

Captain Sunita L. Williams
Image: NASA

Captain Sunita L. Williams, USN, was born in Euclid, Ohio (although she considers Needham, Massachusetts her hometown). She was selected by NASA in 1998.

Her extensive spaceflight experience includes two expeditions to ISS. Williams launched aboard STS-116 in December of 2006 to join Expedition 14/15. Her first tour on the station lasted until June of 2007. During that mission, she established a world record for females with four spacewalks totaling 29 hours and 17 minutes of Extravehicular Activity (EVA). Williams concluded her tour of duty as a member of the Expedition 15 crew returning to Earth with STS-117.

Williams returned to ISS for Expedition 32/33, which ran from July, 2012, until November of that year. She spent 127 days in space during the expedition. She has spent a total of 322 days in space on two missions; she ranks sixth on the all-time U.S. endurance list, and second all-time for a female. With 50 hours 40 minutes, she also holds the record total cumulative spacewalk time by a female astronaut.

Astronaut Eric A. Boe Image: NASA

Colonel Eric A. Boe
Image: NASA

Colonel Eric A. Boe, USAF, was born in Miami but grew up in Atlanta. He joined NASA in 2000. Boe’s spaceflight experience includes two Shuttle missions. In 2008, he launched aboard Endeavor on STS-126. The mission highlights included expanding the living quarters of the space station by delivering a new bathroom, kitchen, two sleeping quarters, an exercise machine, and a water recycling system. The mission involved four spacewalks. STS-126 returned to Earth after completing 251 orbits and traveling six million miles.

Boe flew again in 2011, when he launched aboard the final mission of Space Shuttle Discovery. He and the Discovery crew completed the mission, which included the delivery the Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) and the fourth Express Logistics Carrier (ELC) to ISS. The mission’s two spacewalks assisted in outfitting the truss of the station and completed a variety of other tasks designed to upgrade station systems.

Astronaut Douglas G. Hurley Image: NASA

Colonel Douglas G. Hurley
Image: NASA

Colonel Douglas G. Hurley, USMC, was born in Endicott, New York. He joined NASA in 2000. His spaceflight experience began in 2009, when he launched aboard Endeavor on mission STS-127.

On that mission, the crew of Endeavor delivered the Japanese-built Exposed Facility (JEM-EF) and the Experiment Logistics Module Exposed Section (ELM-ES) to ISS. The crew also completed the construction of the KIBO Japanese Experiment Module, installed scientific experiments on its Exposed Facility, and delivered critical spare parts and replacement batteries to the orbital complex. While the shuttle was docked, the mission featured a record thirteen astronauts working aboard ISS.

Hurley next flew aboard Atlantis on mission STS-135. That mission saw the delivery of the “Raffaello” Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM). The mission also flew a system to investigate the potential for robotically refueling existing spacecraft and returned a failed ammonia pump module.

STS-135 was final mission of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program.

Read NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announcement (including links to official astronaut biographies) on his blog.

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