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NASA is training SpaceX’s first Crew Dragon astronauts for a much longer mission in space


NASA has shown the astronauts assigned to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon astronaut start debut are training for a space station assignment many times more than intended.

Scheduled to send two NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) no earlier than (NET) late-April or May 2020, Crew Dragon’s Demo-2 mission will be the very first crewed launching in SpaceX’s 18-year history. As previously noted on Teslarati (and from NASA itself( temporarily ), Demo-2 may also mark the first time in history a privately-built spacecraft tries to launch people into orbit.

Still, NASA has financed the development of Crew Dragon (and competitor Boeing’s Starliner) not to reach firsts but also to reestablish the United States’ capability to launch its astronauts into the ISS. Along these lines, both Crew Dragon (Demo-2) and Starliner’s (CFT) astronaut test flights had been nominally designed to last about a week or two before returning NASA’s astronauts into Earth – a full end-to-end test for the two exceptionally sophisticated vehicles. Two weeks is not really long enough for all those astronauts to serve as full members of space station team, something that the ISS generally requires. In reply, NASA has been considering extending Boeing’s SpaceX evaluation flight and has just suggested that SpaceX’s own Demo-2 test flight will probably be updated.

Yep, @DJSnM, @Astro_Doug and @AstroBehnken have been trained for a long-duration assignment as #ISS crewmembers. That is a change from the initial plan to do a min length test flight, driven by @NASA should personnel the ISS.

— Garrett Reisman (@astro_g_dogg) February 23, 2020

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Approximately a month ago, SpaceX and NASA talked openly about the prospect of a longer-duration Crew Dragon astronaut launching debut for the very first time, potentially extending the period of time those astronauts can spend at the space station from about one week to 1.5-3 weeks. This will allow Crew Dragon’s Demo-2 NASA astronauts – Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley – to serve as full members of the ISS team, enlarging the US presence.

Ars Technica’s Eric Berger provided some extra specifics about exactly what NASA might task Behnken and Hurley using on an elongated flight earlier this month. Most of all, the area agency wants the former astronaut – a Space Shuttle and also extra-vehicular activity (EVA) veteran – to be (re)trained for spacewalks, letting him support an ever-growing to-do record of critical space station repairs and updates.

The International Space Station is envisioned in October 2018 throughout a crewed Soyuz fly-around. (NASA/Roscosmos)

In effect, extending Crew Dragon’s astronaut flight test will make it almost identical to an “operational” flight where Crew Dragon ferries astronauts to the space station, docks for roughly six weeks, and returns the very exact astronauts into Earth at the end of its assignment. More to the point, though, NASA’s choice to extend Commercial Crew Program (CCP) test flights – kickstarted using Boeing’s beleaguered Starliner spacecraft – is motivated by a desire to protect against the United States’ presence on the space station from dwindling or even regressing to zero at the near future.

Triggered by many decades of SpaceX and Boeing flaws, NASA will likely have to purchase seats on Russian Soyuz starts if it wishes to keep a complete, uninterrupted presence on ISS for the next 12-24 months. After enduring numerous deeply about software failures because of its very first and only orbital launch, Boeing’s Starliner is not likely to be prepared to start team anytime soon. At the same time, although SpaceX is closer to its own astronaut launch debut than ever before, it’s highly unlikely that Crew Dragon can singlehandedly support a full ISS match of 3 NASA astronauts while still Starliner works out its own issues.

Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft stand vertical at their respective launching pads at December 2019 and January 2020. Crew Dragon has performed two powerful starts to Starliner’s partial failure. (Richard Angle)

Therefore, NASA is currently looking it could to squeeze time out of astronaut assignments and the two Starliner and Crew Dragon’s test flights – barring showstoppers – are excellent opportunities. Together with NASA Johnson Space Center’s affirmation both Behnken and Hurley are already deep into the extra training required for an elongated flight, odds are good both astronauts will be all set for an individual – or – several-month assignment by the period that NASA and SpaceX are prepared and willing to start.

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