It’s a big year for commercial space companies like Boeing and SpaceX; both have worked extraordinarily hard to bring crewed rocket launches back to American soil for the first time since 2011, and 2019 should finally be the year that they’ll get to witness the fruits of their efforts.
Image Credit: Boeing/NASA
Before either company gets the green light from NASA to move forward with a crewed rocket launch, they’ll first need to prove their flight capabilities by way of un-crewed launch tests. SpaceX’s demonstration launch is expected to transpire by next month, while Boeing’s demonstration launch is pegged for some time ‘this Spring.’
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But while both companies prepare for the big launch day, NASA appears to have thrown an unexpected wrench in the original plan. The American space agency removed Eric Boe, an astronaut who spent more than three years of his life training to fly on Boeing’s first official crewed launch, with someone else.
Unspecified medical reasons seem to be at the foot of NASA’s decision, but it wouldn’t take much to become disqualified from consideration. Strict health protocols limit NASA’s astronaut selection to only the healthiest human specimens around.
But what of Boe’s replacement? It appears that NASA has chosen Mike Fincke, an experienced space station commander with 382 days in space accumulated under his belt over four separate missions. Fincke has also performed nine different spacewalks throughout his space-centric career.
Image Credit: NASA
While it’s undoubtedly unfortunate to Boe and his fans that he won’t get to be a part of Boeing’s first crewed flight later this year, NASA’s second choice has been met with a broadly-positive response. Fincke brings years’ worth of experience to the table, a valuable thing to have in a high-stress scenario like this one.
“Eric Boe is awesome; it would have been an honor to fly with him again to the International Space Station,” responded Christopher Ferguson, one of the astronauts that will fly on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner’s Crew Flight Test later this year. “The Starliner team is bummed that he isn’t making this trip. Mike Fincke brings years of experience and Nicole Mann, and I are glad to have him as a part of our crew.”
Despite all these changes on Boeing’s side of things, everything remains the same on SpaceX’s end. In fact, SpaceX just recently test-fired the engines of the Falcon 9 rocket that will be used on the company’s first un-crewed launch next month, symbolizing the company's readiness as the deadline approaches.
These launches represent a critical step forward in the United States’ space industry as NASA moves away from its dependence on the Russian Soyuz platform for space science and research. With a little luck, perhaps everything will go as planned, and the United States can perform space research without relying on other nations to get us there.