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NASA reassigns astronauts from delayed Boeing Starliner to SpaceX

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Boeing’s Starliner capsule sits on the launch pad prior to the launch of the OFT-2 mission on an Atlas V rocket.

United Launch Alliance

NASA moved a pair of astronauts from Boeing’s first two manned missions to a SpaceX mission next year, in a rare reassignment as the aerospace giant’s Starliner capsule remains delayed in development.

The US space agency announced on Wednesday that astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada will be commanding and piloting the SpaceX Crew-5 mission in the fall of 2022.

NASA commissioned the couple in August 2018 to fly Boeing’s first manned Starliner missions – with a husband on the Starliner crew flight test and Cassada on the first operational Starliner flight. But after spending three years flying the Boeing capsule, the two astronauts are the first to be transferred from one U.S. spaceship to another.

“We understand the agency will need to make adjustments to bring members of the current astronaut-class flight experience onto an operational vehicle as development of the Starliner spaceship continues. We fully support NASA’s decisions and continue to work to ensure the safety of the astronauts who will fly. “On our vehicle first,” a Boeing spokesman said in a statement to CNBC.

NASA has assigned three more astronauts to Boeing’s Starliner flight test: Butch Wilmore, Mike Fincke and Suni Williams. The agency says it will place additional orders for Boeing missions “in the future”.

Ars Technica first reported that Mann and Cassada would likely leave Starliner.

Boeing had planned to fly the Starliner capsule on the OFT-2 unmanned mission in August, but issues with a number of the spacecraft’s propulsion valves delayed the test flight – repeating Boeing’s unmanned flight test in December 2019.

The original flight test was canceled when the spacecraft’s flight control system misfired and the capsule did not reach the International Space Station as planned.

The OFT-2 delayed mission does not yet have a new target launch date as Boeing is working with supplier Aerojet Rocketdyne to fix the valve problems.

NASA Commercial Crew program manager Steve Stich told reporters at a news conference that “there is really no opportunity” for OFT-2 to fly this year and that it is “too early to narrow down a date for 2022”.

“Right now we really have to work on the root of the valve problem,” said Stich.

Boeing is assuming the cost of OFT-2 and raised $ 410 million shortly after the first flight test. The company developed Starliner as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program and won nearly $ 5 billion in contracts to build the capsule. SpaceX received roughly $ 3.1 billion to develop its Crew Dragon capsule under the same NASA program and launched its first astronauts in May 2020.

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