The U.S. is getting ready to send the first commercial flight out in space, and the astronaut pilots have already been chosen. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has named this week the four experienced pilots to get the chance of flying private-owned capsules into space.
Boeing and SpaceX are both sending spacecraft, but their bets are safe with the chosen astronauts: each one has already flown into space twice; they are: Air Force Col. Robert Behnken, former chief of the astronaut office; retired Marine Colonel Douglas Hurley; Air Force Col. Eric Boe, who flew with Discovery’s last shuttle crew; and Navy Capt. Sunita Williams, an experienced astronaut who flew to the International Space Station twice.
By 2017, the commercial flight companies hope to have their test flights to the space station done and over with. Cape Canaveral, Florida will see its first launch of astronauts ever since 2011 when the space shuttles retired.
For the last four years, NASA has been paying out of pocket for Russia to ferry their astronauts to space – tens of millions of dollars were spent on each ride with the Soyuz spacecraft. NASA has still got $76 more million to pay.
With each counting at least 15 years of experience, the four astronauts range in age from 44 to 50; before the actual launch, they will work closely at the spacecraft development in partnership with the companies.
NASA said spaceflight experience was the most important criteria these astronauts fulfilled. In addition to that, the crew combines a total of more than 400 days spent in space; Williams is the one accounting for most of those, as she most recently lived on ISS in 2012.
They also have among themselves more than 85 hours of spacewalking time, a category in which Williams holds the world record for most spacewalking time by a woman.
Before taking them for the commercial space missions, the SpaceX and Boeing crew capsules will have to perform at least one test flight with NASA astronauts on board; the pricing gets close to $7 billion.
According to a NASA interview, there will be more than the 4 astronauts checking the safety and the certification of the vehicle, with a great team working diligently at making the spacecraft as safe as possible.
John Holdren, head of the White House office of technology and science policy, said that finally selecting a crew for the commercial flight is another step towards getting America closer to meeting President Barack Obama’s goal of landing astronauts on Mars in the 2030s.
Image Source: Spaceflight Insider