NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said at a Jan. 19 press conference after the successful in-flight abort test of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, “We might look at making that first crew be a longer duration crew for the purpose of getting the maximum amount of capability out of the International Space Station”
Fremont, CA: NASA is inclining towards making SpaceX’s crewed test flight to the International Space Station (ISS) a long-duration mission. This move can relieve concerns about the lack of crew on the station by the end of this year.
NASA’s Johnson Space Center posted images of NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley getting trained for their upcoming Demo-2 mission to the ISS on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.
The original plans for the Demo-2 mission involved a relatively short duration flight, spending not more than a couple of weeks. Recently, agency officials have suggested possibilities of extending the mission to increase the number of astronauts on the station. From mid-April, the station will have three astronauts, including one NASA astronaut, Chris Cassidy.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said at a Jan. 19 press conference after the successful in-flight abort test of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, “We might look at making that first crew be a longer duration crew for the purpose of getting the maximum amount of capability out of the International Space Station.”
To extend the mission, the crew would need some additional training such as spacewalks. He stated, “It also gives us the opportunities to do extravehicular activities that may not right now be scheduled but may pop up based on things that happen on the ISS. It’s always better to have more crew on board to do those activities rather than less.” Bridenstine also said that no decision has been finalized yet and that a decision will be made in several weeks. Behnken’s spacewalk training, however, indicates that NASA intends to preserve this option.
Garrett Reisman, a former astronaut and SpaceX employee, said that Behnken and Hurley “are being trained for a long-duration mission as ISS crewmembers. This is a change from the original plan to do a min. duration test flight, driven by NASA needs to staff the ISS.”
An investigation is expected by the end of this month on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, which flew an uncrewed test flight in December, but some software problems during the flight shortened the mission and prevented a docking with the ISS. This incident has raised questions about whether a second uncrewed test flight will be required.
The additional training of astronauts for the long-duration mission can delay the launch of Demo-2. SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk stated that while spacecraft should be ready in the first quarter of this year, other assessment and final reviews made it look like the mission would possibly take place in the second quarter. The Crew Dragon spacecraft arrived in Florida at the beginning of this month to undergo final tests and launch integration activities.
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