Commercial Crew Spacecraft Will Offer a Quick Escape from Station


The crew of the International Space Station will be able to count on Commercial Crew Program spacecraft in case of an emergency in orbit. As with all the needs for the new spacecraft, NASA outlined a list of requirements for designers to meet. For the most part, it means the spacecraft can be powered on quickly while docked to the station, even if it has been dormant for weeks or a couple of months. From air circulation fans to life support systems to thrusters, the spacecraft’s systems will be designed to engage in minutes.

“Some systems will take longer to bring online, but the idea is to have spacecraft that astronauts can get into quickly for survival and then use to pull away from the station and come home if that is needed,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Read the full story at

Astronauts Work with Crew Dragon Qualification Vehicle

Bob Behnken and Eric Boe, two of NASA’s four veteran astronauts who supported SpaceX as it refines its crew transportation system designs, checked out the Crew Dragon being used for qualification testing. NASA astronauts routinely travel to industry facilities during spacecraft and mission development to train and offer insights to engineers.

As seen here, Behken is evaluating the Crew Dragon’s hatches. The top hatch, at the nose of the spacecraft, will be the connecting port at the International Space Station. The side hatch will be the entryway for crews getting into the spacecraft when on Earth.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft and related test vehicles are being manufactured at SpaceX’s headquarters and factory in Hawthorne, California. The Crew Dragon is being built to routinely fly four astronauts to the International Space Station although it can carry up to seven people. Flight tests, first without a crew then with astronauts aboard, will take place before operational crew rotation missions.

NASA also partnered with Boeing to build and operate a separate, independent space system called the CST-100 Starliner to carry astronauts to the station. Both vehicles are being developed in close coordination with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Photos by SpaceX.

Boeing Powers On Starliner Spacecraft For First Time

Engineers for the first time powered up the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft that will fly Boeing’s inaugural flight test of the next-generation spacecraft. Working inside Boeing’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the test team activated the flight avionics system for the Starliner known as Spacecraft 1. The system is the same astronauts will use for all Starliner missions.

The avionics is the complex suite of equipment and software that work together to maneuver the spacecraft in orbit, conduct the rendezvous and docking with the International Space Station and communicating with Mission Control on the ground. Whether under manual control by the crew or in automatic mode, the flight computers have to work seamlessly with the thrusters,  guidance and navigation system and other subsystems to perform the mission and then return back to Earth safely.

The Starliner is being built as an upper half and lower half that will be bolted together following successful systems testing. Once completed, Spacecraft 1 will be launched without a crew on a flight test to demonstrate its capability to abort a mission from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency. Later flight tests will demonstrate Starliners in orbital missions to the station without a crew, and then with astronauts aboard. The flight tests will preview the crew rotation missions future Starliners will perform as they take up to four astronauts at a time to the orbiting laboratory in order to enhance the research taking place there. Photo credits: Boeing

Zip Lines Installed at SLC-41 for Starliner Missions

Engineers evaluate the Emergency Egress System as they ride in folding seats attached to slide wires at Space Launch Complex 41. United Launch Alliance and Boeing continue modifications to the pad in order to host missions by the Boeing CST-100 Starliner carrying astronauts and crew. The system recently completed its final test. In the unlikely event of an emergency prior to liftoff, each person on the Crew Access Tower would get into their own seat attached to the wire and slide more than 1,340 feet to a safe area. The wires are situated 172 feet above the pad deck on level 12 of the tower. The Starliner will launch on a ULA Atlas V on mission to low-Earth orbit including those flying astronauts to the International Space Station during missions by NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Photo credit: NASA/Leif Heimbold

ULA Emergency Egress System (EES) Demonstration from the Crew Access Tower at Pad 41.

Engineers tested a new slide wire emergency escape system at Space Launch Complex 41 as United Launch Alliance continues to modify the pad for upcoming launches of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft aboard ULA’s Atlas V rockets on missions to and from the International Space Station.

There are seats in place on four wires so up to 20 astronauts and ground support personnel can quickly get down from the tower in case a dangerous situation develops during the countdown. The system has been designed with the astronauts’ suit in mind, including making the seats easier to get into and the handles that control speed on the way down easy to operate.

The crew access tower is new to the launch complex, which has hosted uncrewed spacecraft and rockets for years. The egress system is located on the same level as the crew access arm, which provides the connection for astronauts to enter the Starliner spacecraft on top of the Atlas V rocket. It is the first new emergency evacuation system that has been installed at the Florida spaceport since the slide wire baskets used during the Space Shuttle Program.

Apollo missions had similar escape systems in place on its launch towers. The systems have never been needed in an emergency, but are required in case a condition develops before launch that prohibits those on the tower from taking the elevator down to safety. See our photos of the new system on Commercial Crew Program’s Flickr album at Photo credit: NASA/Leif Heimbold