SpaceX vows manned flight to space station is on track

SpaceX promises it’s still on course to send astronauts to the ISS next year, despite a US government report claiming the 2019 launch is ‘unlikely’

  • It is scheduled to launch in April 2019 after an initial unmanned trip to the ISS
  • It will have four astronauts on-board, all present or former US military officers 
  • A separate mission by Boeing will take five other Nasa astronauts to space
  • Bob Behnken, Michael Hopkins, Douglas Hurley and Victor Glover have been chosen for the SpaceX mission

SpaceX has vowed to send its first astronauts into orbit on schedule next year as part of a plan to restore America’s dominance in the space race.

Gwynne Shotwell, president of the aerospace manufacturing company, said an unmanned flight to the International Space Station (ISS) in November would pave the way for SpaceX’s first manned mission in April 2019.

‘Predicting launch dates could make a liar out of the best of us. I hope I am not proven to be a liar on this one,’ she told journalists during a briefing in Los Angeles.

The pledge from the firm, which is spearheaded by multi-billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, is in stark contrast to an independent report from the US government.

The government report, published in July, claimed it was highly unlikely SpaceX would be able to send astronauts to the ISS next year.

However, SpaceX president Ms Shotwell said the mission is scheduled to go ahead as planned as soon as SpaceX was ‘ready to fly these folks safely.’ 

The news comes at  SpaceX held a secret conference in Colorado called the ‘Mars Workshop’ to formulate a plan to land people on Mars and build an outpost on the planet.  

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Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, said an unmanned flight to the International Space Station in November would pave the way for a manned mission in April 2019 and the mission is on schedule 

Nasa awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 as part of its commercial crew program, which aims to help private industry build spaceships for low-Earth orbit.

On August 3, the agency named the first nine astronauts who will fly to space in Boeing and SpaceX vehicles in 2019 – a mix of novices and veterans.

Those named for the SpaceX test crew include shuttle veterans Bob Behnken, Michael Hopkins and Douglas Hurley, alongside naval aviator Victor Glover, a novice to spaceflight.


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The flights to the ISS will be the first time flights to put people into orbit have left US soil since the iconic space shuttle program ended in 2011.

For seven years, Nasa astronauts have hitched rides to the orbiting outpost on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft – at a cost of $80 million a seat. 

During a media briefing about SpaceX’s plans, president MsShotwell said the manned mission will go ahead as soon as SpaceX is ‘ready to fly these folks safely.’  

‘Next in line we want to make sure not only that we get these folks up and back safely but that that’s reliable and a mission that we conclude,’ she added.

‘We want to hit all the boxes do everything we need to do, to demonstrate that this vehicle is capable of taking astronauts up from US soil as often as Nasa will allow us.’ 

WHO ARE THE NINE ASTRONAUTS GOING TO SPACE NEXT YEAR ON COMMERCIAL AIRCRAFT?  

On August 3, Nasa named the first nine astronauts who will fly to space on Boeing and SpaceX vehicles in 2019 – a mix of novices and veterans.

These are: 

Robert ‘Bob’ Behnken, 48

SpaceX Crew Dragon test crew member 

Is a U.S. Air Force colonel

Was chief of the Astronaut Office, the highest leadership role

Has a bachelor’s physics and mechanical Engineering from Washington University and a master’s and doctorate in mechanical engineering from California Institute of Technology

Eric Boe, 53

Boeing Starliner test crew member 

Born in Miami

Is a U.S. Air Force colonel and member of the Texas Wing of the Civil Air Patrol

Has a bachelor’s in astronautical engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy, and a master’s in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology

Enjoys outdoor sports, reading, scuba diving, and skiing

Josh Cassada, 45

Boeing Starliner first mission member 

Grew up in White Bear Lake, Minnesota

Is a U.S. Navy commander and test pilot with more than 3,500 flight hours

Will be taking his first trip to space

Has a bachelor’s in physics from Albion College and a master’s and doctorate in physics with a specialty in high-energy particle physics from the University of Rochester

Chris Ferguson, 56

Boeing Starliner test crew member 

Born in Philadelphia

Is Boeing’s director of Starliner Crew and Mission Systems

Retired from the Navy as a captain and pilot; also a former shuttle astronaut

Has a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Drexel University and a masters of science in aeronautical engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School

Enjoys golf, woodworking, running; and played drums for Max Q, a rock and roll band

Victor Glover, 42

SpaceX Crew Dragon first mission 

Is from Pomona, California

Is a U.S. Navy commander and test pilot with almost 3,000 hours flying

Has made 400 carrier landings and has flown 24 combat missions

Has a bachelor’s in general engineering from California Polytechnic State University and a master’s in flight test engineering from Air University as well as a master’s systems engineering from Naval Postgraduate School and a master’s of military operational art and science from Air University

Michael Hopkins, 49

SpaceX Crew Dragon first mission member 

Born in Lebanon, Missouri

Is a U.S. Air Force colonel and flight test engineer

Has spent 166 days on the International Space Station for expeditions 37 and 38 and conducted two spacewalks

Has a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering from the University of Illinois and a master’s in aerospace engineering from Stanford University

Douglas Hurley, 51

SpaceX Crew Dragon test crew

From Apalachin, New York

Is a U.S. Marine Corps colonel

Piloted the final space shuttle mission, Atlantis’ STS-135, as well as Endeavor’s STS-127

Has a bachelor’s in civil engineering from Tulane University

Nicole Aunapu Mann, 41

Boeing Starliner test crew member 

From Penngrove, California

Is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps and F/A-18 test pilot with more than 2,500 flight hours

Will be taking her first trip to space

Has a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and a master’s in mechanical engineering with a specialty in fluid mechanics

Sunita Williams, 52 

Boeing Starliner first mission

Is from Needham, Massachusetts

Is a U.S. Navy captain and test pilot

Has spent 322 days aboard the International Space Station for expeditions 14 and 15 and expeditions 32 and 33 and performed seven spacewalks

Has a bachelor’s physical science from the U.S. Naval Academy and a Master of Science in Engineering Management from Florida Institute of Technology

(L-R) Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, Mike Hopkins and Victor Glover, the Nasa astronauts chosen for the Commercial Crew Program to fly on the SpaceX Crew Dragon

A mock up of the Crew Dragon spacecraft is displayed during a media tour of SpaceX headquarters and rocket factory in Hawthorne, California. The flights to the ISS will be the first leaving US soil to put people into orbit since the iconic space shuttle program ended in 2011

The SpaceX spacesuit to be worn by Nasa astronauts when they travel to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule

SpaceX unveiled its astronauts, all clad in blue overalls and smiling proudly in front of the module that will transport them to the ISS, to answer questions from the media.

‘Being able to fly as a first flight a vehicle as a test pilot is a ‘once in a generation’ type of opportunity, so obviously I’m very thankful for it,’ said Mr Hurley.

‘But I would also say that we’ve got a lot of work left to do.’

SpaceX held its inaugural ‘Mars Workshop’, first reported by Ars Technica, to plan its Mars mission last week. 

TIMELINE OF HOW SPACEX WILL TAKE ASTRONAUTS INTO ORBIT 

SpaceX has revealed that it will be launching a demo/test flight of its Dragon capsule lkater this year. 

It has originally pencilled the launch in for a November launch.    

The launch manifesto for the firm states there will be two demo launches before a manned mission. 

The first people to board a Dragon Capsule into orbit will be in April 2019, if the original timetable is accurate. 

It will use the Falcon 9 rocket to achieve the feat.

The firm sent out 60 invitations to scientists and engineers to participate in ‘active discussions regarding what will be needed to make such missions happen.’

The individuals were asked to keep the meeting private and not to divulge any information about the conference.

According to Ars Technica, the workshop may be ‘the first meeting of such magnitude’ in SpaceX’s quest to land humans on and ultimately colonise the red planet.

No specifics have been divulged by the meeting’s participants but a SpaceX representative told Business Insider that this is not necessarily a new tact for the company. 

A spokesperson said: ‘We regularly meet with a variety of experts concerning our missions to Mars.’

The space exploration firm claims it has had the technology to launch and land on mars for some time, but the principle issue focuses around making the missions suitable for human habitation. 

‘The main hindrance is the human factor. If you really are going to land a person on Mars, you have to feed them, keep them healthy, and build them habitats,’  D. Marshall Porterfield, the former director of Nasa’s Space Life and Physical Sciences Division said. 

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