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NASA picks four veteran astronauts to train for space taxi test flights

Irene Klotz, Spaceflight Correspondent
Jul 9, 2015, 18:05 UTC

Sen—NASA has selected four veteran astronauts to train for test flights aboard commercial space taxis under development by SpaceX and Boeing.

The group includes Robert Behnken, a two-time space shuttle veteran who is stepping down as chief of the Astronaut Office to resume training. NASA on Wednesday named another veteran astronaut, Christopher Cassidy, to take over Behnken’s post.

Joining Behnken in training to fly on SpaceX’s Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 capsules are Sunita Williams, who has spent a total of 322 days in space during two missions aboard the International Space Station; and two space shuttle pilots, Eric Boe and Douglas Hurley, each of whom have flown twice. All four are military officers.

The assignments will be to work with SpaceX and Boeing to serve as crewmembers on upcoming test flights of the new space taxis. The four are not being assigned to long-duration space station missions, NASA spokeswoman Nicole Cloutier-Lemasters wrote in an email to Sen.

“These four astronauts are being identified for the initial crew test flights. All four will work closely with both contractor teams throughout the final phases of development and certification,” Cloutier-Lemasters said.

The test flights are targeted for 2017.

The training “will be significantly shorter than training for long-duration space station missions. The training flow will be closer to shuttle mission training,” added NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz.

NASA has been dependent on Russia to ferry crew to and from the orbital outpost since its three space shuttles were retired in 2011. The United States pays Russia about $76 million per seat. It expects to cut on average about $18 million per person when it starts buying rides from SpaceX and Boeing, but overall crew transportation costs will increase because NASA intends to add a seventh astronaut to the current six-member station crew.

NASA also is looking to ship about 220 pounds of science and research gear per flight to support station experiments.

“The decision that President Bush made in 2004 to retire the Space Shuttle was not an easy decision, but it was the right decision … It was the recommendation of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, and endorsed by many people in the space community—including yours truly,” NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a column posted on NASA’s website.

“I cannot think of a better way to continue our celebration of independence this July than to mark this milestone as we look to reassert our space travel independence and end our sole reliance on Russia to get American astronauts to the International Space Station,” he said.

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The astronauts who will fly aboard commercial space taxies. Image credit: NASA

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