A recent announcement from NASA confirms first crewed flight of SpaceX rocket to the International Space Station (ISS) to take place in June 2019. It will be the first manned mission by the US, since the retirement of its space shuttle program in 2011, said NASA. Further, a flight on Boeing spacecraft is anticipated to follow in August 2019.
According to NASA, the schedule for both launches has been postponed for several times and now the deadlines would be provided with monthly updates. Although the new process for reporting the schedule has improved, there will be some uncertainties with launch dates, which are also expected to change as the dates get closer.
In a blog post, Phil McAlister, one of the directors at NASA headquarters said, being the new spacecraft, the engineers would have a lot of work to conduct prior to launch of the systems. Earlier, NASA astronauts were using Russian Soyuz spacecraft, contract of which is set to expire in November 2019.
Both SpaceX and Boeing missions are considered tests where each flight would carry two astronauts to spend around two weeks aboard the orbiting research laboratory before their return to Earth. In long term, NASA plans to use these two spacecraft for its regular missions to ISS which would last about six months.
An uncrewed test for SpaceX will be carried out in January 2019, while Boeing is set to be experimented in March 2019. For launching SpaceX, NASA has confirmed to use Falcon 9 rocket attached with a Crew Dragon on top. On the other hand, an Atlas V rocket will be used to set the trajectory of Boeing’s Starline ship. The rocket was made by the United Launch Alliance in partnership with Lockheed Martin. As NASA’s contract with the Russian space agency is coming to an end, it is depending on the success of both the missions.
In 2014, a combined $6.8 billion were awarded to SpaceX and Boeing in contracts from NASA for the development of spacecraft capable of flying astronauts to the space station. In August 2018, NASA revealed the names of nine astronauts for its first manned spaceflight program, including Sunita Williams, an Indian-origin astronaut.