SpaceX is tapping into a deep vein of NASA experience as the company prepares to launch agency astronauts to orbit in the next few months.
SpaceX has hired former NASA human-spaceflight chief Bill Gerstenmaier, CNBC reported yesterday (Feb. 11). Gerst, as he is known within the spaceflight community, will work as a consultant for SpaceX's reliability team, company representatives confirmed to Space.com.
That team is presumably working to get SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule ready for its first crewed flight, a test mission to the International Space Station (ISS) called Demo-2 that will carry NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. Demo-2 is expected to launch soon, perhaps as early as May.
Demo-2 will mark Crew Dragon's second trip to the ISS, after the uncrewed Demo-1 in March 2019. (But Demo-2 will use a different vehicle; the capsule that flew Demo-1 was destroyed during a ground-test accident in April of last year.)
Gerst worked for NASA for decades. He served as the agency's associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations from 2005 through July 2019, when he was reassigned as a "special adviser" to NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard. NASA chief Jim Bridenstine linked the leadership shake-up to the agency's push to put people on the moon by 2024, an ambitious timeline laid out by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in March 2019.
Gerst may lend his expertise to SpaceX programs beyond Crew Dragon. After all, the company is also developing a Mars-colonizing transportation system called Starship, which could begin carrying people as early as 2023.
Crew Dragon isn't the only company developing private astronaut taxis for NASA. The space agency also signed a deal with Boeing to get its capsule, the CST-100 Starliner, up and running. But Starliner suffered multiple software issues on its version of Demo-1, which launched in December 2019 and failed to reach the ISS as planned. It's unclear if Starliner will have to refly that uncrewed test mission, and, if so, when that makeup mission would launch.
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Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.