NASA, SpaceX Coordinate Crucial Astronaut Recovery Exercise

Teams from NASA and SpaceX, rehearse crew extraction in Port Canaveral
NASA astronaut Doug Hurley, along with teams from NASA and SpaceX, rehearse crew extraction from SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which will be used to carry humans to the International Space Station, on Aug. 13, 2019 at the Trident Basin in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Teams from NASA and SpaceX practiced removing astronauts from a Crew Dragon spacecraft on Tuesday, Aug. 13, at Port Canaveral in Florida, preparing for when humans return to Earth from a mission to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The joint simulation involved a mock-up of the spacecraft and Go Searcher, one of the SpaceX ships that will recover the spacecraft and astronauts after splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean. NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, who will fly to and from the space station aboard Crew Dragon for the SpaceX Demo-2 mission, participated in the exercise.

Teams from NASA and SpaceX, rehearse crew extraction from SpaceX’s Crew Dragon in Port Canaveral
Using SpaceX’s Go Searcher ship and a mock-up of the Crew Dragon, NASA and SpaceX teams worked through the steps necessary to get NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, left, and Bob Behnken out of the Dragon and back to dry land. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

“Integrated tests like today’s are a crucial element in preparing for human spaceflight missions,” Hurley said. “This opportunity allowed us to work with the recovery team and ensure the plans are solid for the Demo-2 mission.”

The event marked the first time a fully integrated NASA and SpaceX team worked together on the ship to go through an end-to-end practice run of how the teams will recover and extract the astronauts when they return from the space station in Crew Dragon. Hurley and Behnken were taken out of the spacecraft, given a mock medical evaluation and then transported to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Skid Strip, or airport.

“We’re making sure that the team integrates together — that’s a key to any successful mission,” said Ted Mosteller, the NASA recovery director in charge of the agency’s team for the Commercial Crew Program. “We worked on successfully doing what we need to do to take care of the crew once they return to Earth.”

Teams from NASA and SpaceX, rehearse crew extraction from SpaceX’s Crew Dragon in Port Canaveral
NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, left, and Bob Behnken work with NASA and SpaceX teams during an astronaut recovery exercise in Port Canaveral, Florida. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The purpose of the exercise, Mosteller pointed out, was to ensure participants knew their roles and responsibilities — and where they were supposed to be staged on the 150-foot vessel. He was extremely pleased with the results.

“It feels really good; it has been a lot of hard work to get us to this point,” Mosteller said. “There was a lot of collaboration, and it was a very positive experience for the integrated team.”

For Hurley and Behnken, it’s another milestone on the path to their historic flight.

“We are both looking forward to the Demo-2 flight and having the opportunity to return to the International Space Station,” Behnken said. “Each of these exercises puts us one step closer to fulfilling NASA’s mission of returning astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil.”

As commercial crew providers Boeing and SpaceX begin to make regular flights to the space station, NASA will continue to advance its mission to go beyond low-Earth orbit and establish a human presence on the Moon with the ultimate goal of sending astronauts to Mars.

SpaceX Demo-2 Astronauts Walkthrough Launch Day Operations

SpaceX recently held a training event at its facility in Hawthorne, California for prelaunch operations with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley and ground operators for the company’s Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The training provided an opportunity for the integrated team to dry run all of the activities, procedures and communication that will be exercised on launch day when a Crew Dragon spacecraft launches on a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A in Florida.

The astronauts performed suit-up procedures alongside the SpaceX ground closeout team and suit engineers using the same ground support equipment, such as the seats and suit leak check boxes, that will be used on launch day. Following crew suit-up, the teams performed a simulated launch countdown with the astronauts inside a Crew Dragon simulator and performed several emergency egress, or exit, scenarios.

The training exercise is one of several that NASA astronauts have participated in with our commercial crew partners, Boeing and SpaceX, in preparation for crew flight tests. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program continues to place astronaut safety at the forefront of preparations for human spaceflight.

 

 

 

Astronauts and Ground Teams Put Emergency Escape Procedures to the Test

An emergency medical technician cares for an astronaut with simulated injuries during a joint emergency escape and triage exercise led by NASA, along with Boeing and United Launch Alliance, at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on July 24, 2019. The simulation is part of a series in preparation for upcoming crew flights to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

NASA led a joint emergency escape and triage simulation with Boeing and United Launch Alliance (ULA) on July 24 at Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida in preparation for upcoming crew flights to the International Space Station. The exercise ranged from astronauts and support teams quickly escaping the launch pad to emergency personnel practicing rescue and life support procedures focused on the safety of the launch site teams.

Medical and fire-rescue personnel park ambulances and set up a decontamination and triage area for the joint emergency escape and triage simulation.

In the event of an emergency on launch day, astronauts and support teams would need to exit the launch pad as quickly as possible. The exercise was designed to validate the escape procedures from the crew access tower – the nearly 200-foot-tall structure astronauts will ascend to the same level as the spacecraft on top of the rocket – to a pre-staged medical location a safe distance away from the launch pad. The second half of the rehearsal included the rescue teams that would conduct initial triage for the crew and ground team.

NASA astronauts Josh Cassada, currently in training for the second flight with crew aboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, and Eric Boe, along with astronaut candidate Jasmin Moghbeli, served as flight crew for the simulation.

During the exercise, the astronauts and support teams put on portable respirators and made their way to the emergency egress system – a commercial, off-the-shelf zip line modified and constructed as a safety measure for human spaceflight – for escape. The emergency system is on the same level of the crew access tower as the crew access arm, the bridge astronauts walk across to enter the Starliner. The launch teams, secured in seats, descended the tower to the pad perimeter below.

Wearing portable respirators, astronauts and personnel with simulated injuries exit an armored vehicle during the simulation.

Next, using mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, known as MRAPs, the crew members drove just under a mile north to a helipad, where flight surgeons and the emergency medical services teams waited with ambulances and a decontamination vehicle. Astronauts evacuating from a pad emergency may come into contact with hazardous substances, such as fuel from the rocket or spacecraft, and must be decontaminated to allow medical personnel to safely treat them. In a true emergency, anyone injured would then be transported via helicopter to area hospitals.

Personnel from Kennedy Space Center emergency medical services, pad rescue teams and environmental health, along with CCAFS fire and rescue and the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing worked in tandem with NASA, Boeing and ULA to whisk the astronauts to safety – and, in the process, test necessary procedures and equipment, while providing new team members valuable experience.

The simulation is one of several NASA has conducted with our commercial crew partners, Boeing and SpaceX, in preparation to launch astronauts from American soil. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program continues to place astronaut safety at the forefront of preparations for human spaceflight.

NASA, SpaceX Simulate Astronauts Docking to Station on Crew Dragon Spacecraft

NASA and SpaceX practiced Crew Dragon rendezvous and docking to the International Space Station during a virtual dress rehearsal on June 26
The uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is the first Commercial Crew vehicle to visit the International Space Station. Here it is pictured with its nose cone open revealing its docking mechanism while approaching the station’s Harmony module. Photo credit: NASA

NASA and SpaceX practiced Crew Dragon rendezvous and docking to the International Space Station during a virtual dress rehearsal on June 26 for the company’s first crew flight test, known as Demo-2, to the microgravity laboratory.

NASA and SpaceX practiced Crew Dragon rendezvous and docking to the International Space Station during a virtual dress rehearsal on June 26
The Demo-2 flight test will be the Crew Dragon’s chance to demonstrate a complete mission with astronauts, from launch to landing, and will put SpaceX on its way to earning certification from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Photo credit: NASA

The activity is part of a series of integrated simulations bringing together NASA and SpaceX flight control teams to complete multiple practice runs for each dynamic phase of a mission from launch to splashdown. These simulations provide the teams plenty of practice to ensure they safely and successfully perform the planned operations of the actual spaceflight, with opportunities to fine-tune their procedures and gain experience on how to solve problems should they arise.

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are assigned to take the first flight on SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission, and the two have been working closely with SpaceX throughout the design and construction of the spacecraft, offering up the experience they gained on previous spaceflights. Joint simulations bring them together with the teams that will support them from the ground to practice for the mission — including handling any challenges that might arise during flight.

NASA and SpaceX practiced Crew Dragon rendezvous and docking to the International Space Station during a virtual dress rehearsal on June 26
In March, SpaceX’s Demo-1 mission proved the Crew Dragon and its Falcon 9 rocket worked as designed. Photo credit: NASA

The Demo-2 flight test will be the Crew Dragon’s chance to demonstrate a complete mission with astronauts, from launch to landing, and will put SpaceX on its way to earning certification from NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Once the spacecraft is certified, SpaceX can begin regular flights to the space station with long-duration crews aboard.

In March, SpaceX’s Demo-1 mission proved the Crew Dragon and its Falcon 9 rocket worked as designed. The mission tested a new launch configuration, checked maneuverability demonstrations in free flight and ensured the crew’s ability to transfer power and data between the spacecraft and the space station. With those boxes all successfully checked, the Crew Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft built to carry humans to dock with the space station. Its subsequent safe reentry and splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean was an important step toward proving the spacecraft is ready to carry humans onboard.

Crew Safety A Top Priority

NASA and the Department of Defense Human Space Flight Support (HSFS) Office Rescue Division conducted a crew rescue training event April 25 and 27, 2019, in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida in support of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

For our commercial crew flights, we plan for any scenario that may arise, including unlikely emergencies, such as a spacecraft abort and subsequent splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. Recently, two NASA astronauts as well as a team from the Department of Defense Human Space Flight Support Office Rescue Division practiced what they will do in that very scenario. The DoD team is responsible for quickly and safely rescuing astronauts in the unlikely event of an emergency during ascent, free flight or landing. To learn more about both team’s practices, check out our crew rescue feature.

 

NASA’s Commercial Crew, DoD Teams Conduct Crew Rescue Exercise

Rescue team members stand on the stabilization collar attached to the Boeing CST-100 Starliner training capsule, known as Boiler Plate 3, during a search and rescue training exercise April 16, 2019.
Rescue team members stand on the stabilization collar attached to the Boeing CST-100 Starliner training capsule, known as Boiler Plate 3, during a search and rescue training exercise April 16, 2019. The exercise will be conducted over the next several days at the Army Wharf at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA and the Department of Defense Human Space Flight Support (HSFS) Office Rescue Division are conducting a search and rescue training exercise over the next several days at the Army Warf on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and in the Atlantic Ocean. This is the first at-sea exercise with the Boeing CST-100 Starliner training capsule, known as Boiler Plate 3, ahead of the commercial crew flight test with astronauts targeted for later this year.

The HSFS teams have supported all NASA human spaceflight programs and will be on standby for both NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and Orion launches and landings. The team is responsible for quickly and safely rescuing astronauts in the unlikely event of an emergency during ascent, free flight or landing. This multi-day exercise consists of ground- and water- based training to prepare the DoD pararescue team for an emergency situation on ascent. The HSFS teams will rehearse locating the Starliner spacecraft, sending out rescue teams to extract DoD team members, acting as astronauts, from the capsule and providing immediate medical treatment.  The HSFS team will arrange for pickup, transport and follow-on medical care.

At the conclusion of this exercise, HSFS will complete a full mission profile to validate best practices for configuring and air-dropping U.S. Air Force Pararescue team members from a C-17 aircraft with their associated watercraft, specialized rescue equipment and advanced medical capabilities. HSFS conducted a similar exercise with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft in early December 2018.

This simulation is another example of how safety is being built into systems, processes and procedures for commercial crew missions. It is standard practice to conduct these exercises, and was regularly done during the Space Shuttle Program.

During normal return scenarios, Boeing’s Starliner will land on land in a safe zone of about 15 square miles in the Western United States. Throughout the commercial crew development phases with NASA, Boeing has performed dozens of qualification tests on its parachute and airbag systems simulating conditions on land and in the water.

Demo-1 Post-Splashdown Remarks from Benji Reed

Benji Reed (far left), Director of Crew Mission Management at SpaceX

The following is a transcript of SpaceX Director of Crew Mission Management Benji Reed’s comments during the NASA TV broadcast following Crew Dragon splashdown on Friday, March 8:

To be honest, I’m shaking, and I’m super excited. It was an incredible journey to get to this moment. The teams have just done an amazing job, both the SpaceX and the NASA teams jointly. Fundamentally this is a great day for the nation, for SpaceX, for NASA, for all of us—really for the world.

I think it was Anne (McClain) who said this is the first time in 40 years that we’ve had a spacecraft designed for humans (test) fly, and not only did she fly and go to the space station and do everything she was supposed to do, but we brought her home safe and sound landing in the Atlantic. It’s amazing.

I can’t believe how well the whole mission has gone. I think on every point, everything’s been nailed, all the way along—particularly this last piece. We were all very excited to see re-entry and parachute and drogue deploy and main deploy, splashdown—everything happened just perfectly, right on time the way that we expected it to. It was beautiful.

As a team, SpaceX, we’re just super honored to have the opportunity to have done this mission, to work with NASA, to work through this. You know, Demo-1 is fundamentally this first major milestone in our process towards certification. I always like to remind everybody that this is a whole system—there’s Crew Dragon, there’s the Falcon that’s going to be certified to fly humans, there’s also the ground systems, the operations, our entire factory and production system—everything that we do is being certified to be able to fly astronauts safely, and this is a huge step towards that.

If you kind of look back over what happened over the last two days, which just seems incredible to me, really it’s the culmination of years of work to get us to this day. We had launch, Crew Dragon deployed, and we saw beautiful free flight. One of the things that’s hard to test when you’re on the ground is how fluids work in microgravity. And what’s amazing is everything worked just like we expected.

We got to station, docked, and, you know, it’s the first time I think in history a commercial vehicle and also an American vehicle has docked autonomously to the International Space Station, so that’s super cool. (Crew Dragon was) loaded with all kinds of sensors, all kinds of tests that we did. We all met Ripley, and she’s loaded with sensors so we can understand exactly all the forces that the crew will feel as they’re launched to station from home. We got to meet the little Earth guy (laughs); I heard he’s going to stay on station. Undocking, of course, some more free flight, and then we came home. We jettisoned the trunk, closed the nose cone, and then again, like I said, just beautiful parachute deployment, everything the way we expected.  All of these tests that we’ve been doing on parachutes, all of the analysis that we’ve done on understanding the aerodynamics of re-entry and coming home.  Everything was just wonderful.

The important thing now is we’re going to take all of this data and we’re going to apply that to the next steps. There’s a lot more to do because our ultimate goal is to be able to continue to staff space station, to provide astronauts rides up to space, give them a safe place to be, a safe place to come home in, and do crew rotations every six months. So how do we get there? So we finished Demo-1, huge milestone, the next step is we take that data, we apply it, we learn from it, and we’re going to go to our in-flight abort test, similar to that pad abort test that we did a few years ago. We actually will put the same Dragon that we flew on Demo-1, we’re going to take that and we’re going to put it on top of Falcon 9, launch it, get it going super fast to test conditions, and then escape it off of the rocket and again do the same thing, bring it home safely under parachutes, land it in the ocean.

From there, after we get that done, we go to Demo-2, and that’s kind of like, wow, that’s the big prize, because that’s going to be sending Bob (Behnken) and Doug (Hurley)—our NASA astronauts, our partners, our friends—sending them up on Dragon and taking them to station safely and bringing them home safely.

When that’s done, we’ll go through final, full certification and start those six-month rotation missions, which we’re all so excited about.

It’s important to take a step back and think about all that it took to get here, all the work of all the joint teams—NASA and SpaceX—all the support that we’ve had from friends and family. Really, I think, the most important thing is that on behalf of all of the 6,000 people here at SpaceX, we really want to thank NASA, we want to thank the space station, the international partners, and thank the American public for their support and partnership as we go through this. We’re really proud to be part of this endeavor.

Demo-1 Post-Splashdown Remarks from Steve Stich

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Deputy Manager Steve Stich

The following is a transcript of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Deputy Manager Steve Stich’s comments during the NASA TV broadcast following Crew Dragon splashdown on Friday, March 8:

It’s great to be here representing the Commercial Crew Program. What an outstanding day to be part of our program. We started our contracts in 2014 for these first missions, and to sit here today and talk about Demo-1 and how great the flight went and what we’re going to learn from it is just amazing.

I’d like to congratulate the SpaceX team on a phenomenal job getting the vehicles ready and executing the flight, and our whole NASA team that worked the mission. If you just think about the enormity of what happened in this flight and all of the prep that went into it—getting the pad refurbished at (Launch Complex) 39A, getting the flight control room set up, getting the vehicles built, getting the Falcon 9 ready, all of the analysis, all of the mission support that went into it, the simulations and the practice leading up to this flight over the last year or so—it’s just been a tremendous job.

I would say one of the things that we learned during this flight is the great relationship we have between the program and SpaceX. I would say our teams worked seamlessly back and forth with SpaceX, not only in the lead-up to the flight but in how we managed the flight through the Dragon mission management team, and then also working with Kenny Todd and the International Space Station Program. The space station program did a phenomenal job supporting our program while we were docked to station, on the way to station, and the international partnership as well, so it was a really great opportunity for this mission.

The last 24 hours have been exciting for us. You know we closed the hatch yesterday around noon (Central Time), got into the undock today around 1:31 a.m. (Central Time), did a few small separation burns to get away from station—if you watched that on NASA TV that was flawless—did about three separation burns to get down below station, executed the deorbit burn at about 6:52 a.m. Central Time and then landed just a few minutes ago at 7:45 a.m. (Central Time).

The vehicle is doing well. The recovery crews are out on the scene. They’ve already been around the spacecraft and made sure it was secure for personnel. It was a very calm day with low winds and low sea states, and one of the chutes kind of landed on the Dragon capsule; they’ve already gotten that off, so that’s going really well.  It’ll probably take 30 minutes to maybe an hour to get it back on the ship.

When you look overall at this mission, it was a great dress rehearsal for Demo-2. We learned a phenomenal amount in the prelaunch timeframe about how to load the vehicle, and thinking forward to how we’ll put the crews in the vehicle. The ascent profile for this flight, we practiced the exact profile that Mike Hopkins and others will fly very soon—Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken (on Demo-2). We had the abort system—the crew escape system on Dragon—actually enabled for this flight, and we were able to see how that worked and we’ll get the data back and look at those triggers and how it performed.

On-orbit we got a lot of great data on the vehicle in terms of the thermal performance and power performance; the vehicle really did better than we expected. Then the rendezvous was phenomenal as we came in and checked out those sensors. During the attached phase of course we had cargo operations, and we’ll do the same thing both on Demo-2 and then Crew Dragon-1 and other missions. Then we did a robotic survey of the vehicle to look at the thermal protection system and other systems, and that went really well.

I will say one thing: this mission, it was only six days long. It was a sprint from start to finish, and thinking about where we’ve been in operations in that sprint, I think Kenny (Todd) would probably tell you the same thing—it was just a phenomenal job by the team. And then of course today, the undocking, watching how those systems performed, that went flawlessly. It’s a very tight sequence between undocking and de-orbit burn, how the nose cone performed, how the de-orbit burn was executed, then the entry was phenomenal.

We did have Ripley on board, an anthropomorphic test device, and that’s going to give us a lot of important data for the accelerations during both the ascent phase and then the entry phase under the parachutes and then landing. So we’ll collect that data, and then look at that.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be doing post-flight reviews. In fact just next week we’ll have one for the launch vehicle and the ground segment at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), we’ll start reviewing that. And then subsequently we’ll do reviews with SpaceX on the orbit phase of the mission.

This flight really sets us up well for the rest of the year. The vehicle that’s hit the water in the Atlantic today will be the in-flight abort vehicle, and so one of the first things that’ll happen is the vehicle will come back to KSC and go over into the processing area and start getting refurbished for the in-flight abort test which should be in the June timeframe. And then the Demo-2 vehicle is in Hawthorne, CA getting ready for the first crewed mission. That’s in progress and going well. That work has continued all through the flight, so it will be a busy year for us with SpaceX with in-flight abort in the June timeframe and then Demo-2 later in the year with the first crewed mission.

I don’t think we saw really anything in the mission so far—and we’ve got to do to the data reviews—that would preclude us from having the crewed mission later this year.

If you look in the April timeframe we’re also getting ready for the Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and that will happen very soon. So our program will transition after this mission and the data reviews into preparing not only for in-flight abort and Demo-2, but also the Orbital Flight Test—the uncrewed flight test—for Boeing, and that’ll be coming up in the April timeframe. Spacecraft 3, which is the Boeing vehicle, is coming together at the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility down in Florida. And (Boeing) is in the middle of a bunch of very critical testing right now out at El Segundo (California) to verify that the spacecraft can work successfully in space. And then later on this year we’ll have the Crew Flight Test for Boeing as well.

If you just look at all the activities in commercial crew, it’s a super busy time. In addition to this flight, in the last few weeks we did parachute tests for SpaceX and Boeing and so if you look at all of the activities to get ready for flying our crews, it’s just a very exciting time.

Again, congratulations to our SpaceX team and all of the NASA people across the country that worked so hard for many, many years on this flight. It really sets us up for the rest of the year, and it’s a super exciting time to be in commercial crew.

Commercial Crew Missions Poised to Expand Station Research

The International Space Station was photographed Oct. 4, 2018, by Expedition 56 crew members from a Soyuz spacecraft after undocking.
Credit: NASA/Roscosmos

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) features a new generation of American spacecraft and rockets that will fly astronauts to the International Space Station, boosting the orbiting laboratory’s total crew to seven and expanding its capabilities as a one-of-a-kind microgravity research asset. Today, astronauts living aboard the station must balance time to devote solely to research with maintenance work critical to their safety while in space. Adding just one additional crew member could nearly double the amount of time the crew members could dedicate to research and scientific discovery.

Flights to the space station with CCP partners Boeing and SpaceX could pave the way for more private research opportunities, too.

“Think about that crazy day when you’re now able to have private researchers go up to help,” said Patrick O’Neill, senior marketing and communications manager with the Center for Advancement of Science in Space, which manages the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory. “That idea is coming closer and closer with every single day.”

Much of the technology developed on or for the space station has a direct benefit here on Earth. As an example, David Brady, International Space Station program scientist, says, “Robotics that have been so important in the building and the maintaining of the space station have come down to Earth in the form of robotic surgery.” Between the technological advancements and the ability to study and observe the impacts of living in a gravity-free environment, the space station has become paramount for advancements in research and development.

With a greater focus on research through CCP, investigations conducted in low-Earth orbit will also be key to understanding how to better prepare and protect crews for future missions to the Moon and Mars. Studying how organisms react to life with and without gravity will provide the pathway toward understanding how humans could live other places in the solar system, thus paving the way to test how astronauts could leave Earth for years at a time for a roundtrip to explore Mars. With this understanding, astronauts will truly be able to go where no one has gone before.
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NASA’s Commercial Crew Program on the Verge of Making History

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) and private industry partners, Boeing and SpaceX, are on the verge of making history with the return of human spaceflight launches to the International Space Station from United States soil.

The upcoming flights of the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft will be the first time NASA has sent astronauts to space on systems owned, built, tested and operated by private companies. By allowing industry to provide transportation services to the space station, the agency can concentrate on developing emerging technologies for exploring distant destinations well beyond low-Earth orbit such as the Moon and Mars.

In September 2014, the agency announced the selection of Boeing and SpaceX to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station. This also will mark the return of launching U.S. astronauts on American spacecraft and rockets to low-Earth orbit since the final space shuttle mission in 2011.

The inaugural flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, known as Demo-1, will be uncrewed and is designed to validate end-to-end systems and capabilities, leading to certification to fly a crew. SpaceX’s first crewed flight, Demo-2, will fully demonstrate the company’s ability to safely fly NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the space station. Behnken and Hurley have each flown two space shuttle missions.

In the near future, the uncrewed, opening act for Boeing’s Starliner, known as its Orbital Flight Test, will demonstrate the human transportation capabilities in advance of certification to fly astronauts to space. The first flight with crew aboard a Starliner, the Crew Flight Test, will fully demonstrate Boeing’s ability to fly humans safely to and from the International Space Station. Onboard will be NASA astronaut Mike Finke, a veteran of three spaceflights; NASA astronaut Nicole Mann; and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, who previously led Starliner’s Crew and Mission Systems and flew three space shuttle missions.

CCP will provide safe, reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit destinations, and it will end reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. As a result, the station’s current crew of six can grow, enabling more research aboard the unique microgravity laboratory.