NASA has shown its tremendous confidence in Boeing’s Starliner by shifting astronauts scheduled to launch aboard the calamity capsule to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.
The affected ‘nauts are Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, who were slated for the Crew Flight Test and Starliner-1 missions respectively. Both were selected by NASA in 2013, after the final flight of the Space Shuttle programme, and have been waiting for their trip to space ever since.
Less than a year ago Boeing congratulated Mann on her addition to NASA’s Artemis team. Had things gone to plan she would have made her first spaceflight aboard the Starliner.
— Boeing Space (@BoeingSpace) December 9, 2020
A year (or less) is, however, is long time in spaceflight and after repeated setbacks for the Starliner, it appears NASA has pulled the plug and switched Mann and Cassada to the Crew Dragon. Veteran astronauts Butch Wilmore, Mike Fincke, and Suni Williams remain attached to the project for the time being, and “will continue to provide experience for Boeing,” according to the US space agency.
“NASA decided it was important to make these reassignments to allow Boeing time to complete the development of Starliner,” said the agency, “while continuing plans for astronauts to gain spaceflight experience for the future needs of the agency’s missions.”
Mann and Cassada are the latest to fall victim to what seems to be the Curse of the Calamity Capsule. Three-time Space Shuttle flyer Christoper Ferguson bowed out of his role as commander of the first crewed Starliner mission in 2020. This is a move which, in retrospect, seems to have been a canny one.
Both Mann and Cassada will now fly on Crew-5, in commander and pilot roles respectively. The SpaceX mission is expected to launch in the latter part of 2022, giving a clue into just how much of a Starliner delay could be on the cards. The duo, along with additional crew members, will undertake a long-duration stay aboard the orbiting outpost.
Fincke and Wilmore remain assigned to the Starliner test flight, although that will not launch before a repeat of the uncrewed demonstration mission that ended prematurely as a result of some distinctly shoddy validation and quality assurance practices. The repeat is to show the problems have been fixed, although has itself suffered from the Curse of the Calamity Capsule; the latest being a rollback from the launchpad and return to the factory due to sticking valves.
Once a contender for being the first to fly crew to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Crew programme, Boeing has slipped to a very definite second behind SpaceX. Elon Musk’s rocketeers have sent 10 astronauts to the ISS and another four on a joyride around the Earth.
Boeing hasn’t. ®