NASA, Commercial Crew Partners Lay Out Plans for Human Spaceflight

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NASA and its commercial crew partners, Boeing and SpaceX, held a press conference in Houston this afternoon to discuss their plans for launching U.S. astronauts from Cape Canaveral in 2017. Below are my notes on the event.

Participants

  • Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator
  • Kathy Lueders, NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager
  • Mike Fincke, NASA Astronaut
  • Ellen Ochoa, Johnson Space Center Director
  • John Elbon, Vice President and General Manager of Boeing Space Exploration
  • Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX President & COO

Charles Bolden
NASA Administrator

  • Bolden, a former astronaut, said he would fly aboard Dragon and CST-100 “in a heartbeat.” Joked that he hoped his wife wasn’t watching the press conference
  • “I’ll be a happy camper” if Boeing and SpaceX can meet the 2017 deadline for commercial crew delivery to ISS
  • I never want to write another check to Roscosmos after 2017
  • NASA is moving toward era when low Earth orbit belongs to industry. Thinks that can happen in 10 years
  • The 2024 date for extending ISS will allow time for private space stations launched by Bigelow, etc. to mature
  • Believes we are under 20 years to landing people on Mars
  • Hopes his granddaughters will be going to Mars in the 2030s

Kathy Lueders
NASA Commercial Crew Manager

  • SpaceX and Boeing will each fly crewed and un-crewed demonstration missions to the International Space Station
  • NASA has five certification milestones, but Boeing and SpaceX have included their own certification milestones
  • Commercial crew contracts call for a minimum of 2 missions and a maximum of 6 from each of partners (Boeing, SpaceX)
  • Average seat cost for commercial crew contracts is $58 million; Russians are charging more than $70 million for a seat on Soyuz
  • Lueders would not break down per seat costs by partner; $58 milliion is based on average mission costs over 5 years of contracts
  • When SpaceX and Boeing are flying, can double amount of science on board ISS from 40 to 80 hours per week (7 astronauts instead of 6)
  • Space shuttle carried up an American flag that the first commercial crew mission will return to Earth

Mike Fincke
NASA Astronaut

  • NASA astronauts have been embedded with the commercial crew partners since the beginning
  • Nobody more excited about seeing the commercial crew vehicles fly than NASA astronauts

John Elbon
Boeing Vice President

  • Boeing’s schedule calls for a pad abort test in February 2017, followed by an uncrewed flight test in April 2017, then a flight with a Boeing test pilot and a NASA astronaut in July 2017
  • Critical design review will occur in March, flight software will be delivered in the summer
  • Construction has begun of crew access tower at Cape’s Launch Complex 41
  • The former Orbital Processing Facility 3 is being modified for CST-100 production and processing
  • CST-100 will be reusable for 10 flights
  • This year Boeing celebrates 100 years. Aircraft operation is $70 billion biz. By 200th birthday, Boeing human spaceflight business will be similar
  • Never before has so much human spacecraft hardware has been under development in U.S. with development of Dragon, CST-100 and Orion

Gwynne Shotwell
SpaceX President

  • SpaceX anticipates a pad abort test in a month or so, followed by an in-flight abort test later this year
  • Plans for an un-crewed flight test to ISS in late 2016, and a flight test with crew in early 2017
  • Trying to determine the proper balance of SpaceX and NASA astronauts on the first Dragon flight test
  • Will certify crewed Dragon for a water landing, then a propulsive landing on land
  • Wants Dragon to be the most reliable spacecraft ever flown, and to be “extraordinarily easy” to fly
  • Dragon will be reusable for more than 10 times, but Shotwell wasn’t specific on the exact number
  • There will be more than 50 Falcon 9 flight before SpaceX flies a Dragon crew mission
  • SpaceX would not be the company it is today without its partnership with NASA
  • It will take a village to get to Mars – private, government involvement
  • Although NASA requires four astronauts, Dragon can fly 5 and still deliver cargo