Two astronauts expected to fly on early missions of Boeing's crew capsule will instead ride to orbit with SpaceX, NASA announced today (Oct. 6).
The agency has reassigned astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada to SpaceX's Crew-5 mission, which is expected to launch toward the International Space Station no earlier than the fall of 2022.
Mann and Cassada had both been training on Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule, Mann in preparation for the spacecraft's first crewed test flight to the orbiting lab and Cassada for Starliner's first operational mission.
It's unclear when either of those Boeing flights will get off the ground, however; Starliner must ace an uncrewed test mission to the space station before it can carry people. The capsule took a first crack at that trial flight in December 2019 but suffered several glitches that prevented a planned meetup with the orbiting lab. Boeing had planned to launch a second try, called Orbital Flight Test 2 (OFT-2), in late July of this year but discovered a problem with some valves in Starliner's propulsion system.
The valve issue remains unresolved, and OFT-2 may end up being delayed until 2022, NASA officials have said.
Meanwhile, SpaceX has already launched one crewed test mission and two operational flights to the orbiting lab with its Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule, and the company is gearing up for the liftoff of its third contracted flight, Crew-3, later this month. (Both Boeing and SpaceX hold multibillion-dollar contracts with NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which were signed in 2014.)
"NASA decided it was important to make these reassignments to allow Boeing time to complete the development of Starliner while continuing plans for astronauts to gain spaceflight experience for the future needs of the agency’s missions," NASA officials said in a statement today. The other astronauts flying on Crew-5 will be announced later, they added.
Crew-5 will be the first spaceflight for both Mann and Cassada.
"It has been the opportunity of a lifetime to train on a brand-new spacecraft, the Boeing Starliner, and it has been fantastic to work with the Boeing team," Mann said in the same statement. "I am thrilled to have the opportunity to train on another new spacecraft — the SpaceX Crew Dragon — and appreciate the teams at NASA who have made that possible. I am ready to fly and serve on the International Space Station."
Cassada voiced similar sentiments.
"Cross training on both programs is a unique opportunity to learn, but also to provide valuable insight to future astronauts flying these spacecraft," he said in the same statement. "And, of course, Nicole and I are incredibly excited to get to work aboard the International Space Station, executing current operations and also contributing to future exploration beyond low Earth orbit."
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.