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Sunita Williams among four selected for commercial flights to ISS

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Sunita Williams

Washington: Indian American Sunita Williams is among four astronauts who have been selected by NASA for commercial flights to the International Space Station (ISS) from US soil.

They will work closely with company-led teams to understand their designs and operations as they finalise their Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and operational strategies.

Williams, Robert Behnken, Eric Boe and Douglas Hurley will be trained for commercial spaceflights that will return American launches to US soil and further open up low-Earth orbit transportation to the private sector, the US space agency said.

“These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail — that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden.

Williams, a US Navy captain, received her commission in the Navy in May 1987 and became a helicopter pilot, logging more than 3,000 flight hours in more than 30 different aircraft.

NASA chose Williams for the astronaut programme in 1998. She spent a total of 322 days in space and currently holds the record for total cumulative spacewalk time by a female astronaut (50 hours and 40 minutes).

She now ranks sixth on the all-time US endurance list and second all-time for a female astronaut.

“Their selection allows NASA to move forward with the training necessary to deliver on President Barack Obama’s ambitious plan for returning the launch of the US astronauts to US soil,” said John Holdren, assistant to the President for science and technology.

“This is a new and exciting era in the history of US human spaceflight,” said Brian Kelly, director of flight operations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts with Boeing and SpaceX each require at least one crewed flight test with at least one NASA astronaut on board.

To meet this requirement, the companies must also provide the necessary training for the crew to operate their respective vehicles. NASA is extensively involved with the companies and reviews their training plans.

“Congratulations to Bob, Eric, Doug and Sunita and welcome to the Commercial Crew team,” noted John Elbon, Boeing vice president.

“We look forward to working with such a highly-skilled and experienced group of NASA astronauts as we carve a path forward to launch in 2017.”

The selections are the latest major milestone in the Obama administration’s plan to partner with the US industry to transport astronauts to space, create good-paying American jobs and end the nation’s sole reliance on Russia for space travel.

(IANS)

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US Senators Want NASA To Extend The ISS Life Until At Least 2028

The aim was to save mony so that more resources could invested into deep space exploration of the Moon and eventually Mars.

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NASA ISS
Representational Image, VOA

NASA should extend the life of the International Space Station (ISS) until at least 2028, two US Senators said in a hearing to examine the future of the orbiting laboratory.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas who is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness convened the hearing on Wednesday, which was the first in a series of two hearings to examine the role of the space station.

In its 2019 budget request, the Donald Trump administration proposed ending direct government funding for the ISS by 2025, Florida Today, part of the USA Today network, reported on Wednesday.

“We’ve got this platform up there (worth) north of $100 billion, and it’s there,” Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, ranking member on the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, was quoted as saying.

“Abandoning this incredible orbiting laboratory where they are doing research, when we are on the cusp of a new era of space exploration, would be irresponsible at best and probably disastrous,” Nelson added.

NASA should extend the life of the International Space Station (ISS) until at least 2028, two US Senators said in a hearing to examine the future of the orbiting laboratory.
ISS is a permanent base for astronauts stationed in the outer sky. Wikimedia Commons

The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 directed NASA to develop a plan to transition ISS from the current regime that relies heavily on NASA sponsorship to a regime where NASA could be one of many customers of a low-Earth orbit (LEO) non-governmental human space flight enterprise.

The aim was to save mony so that more resources could invested into deep space exploration of the Moon and eventually Mars.

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The space agency’s internal watchdog on Wednesday, however, said that private companies are unlikely to take on the more than $1 billion annual cost to run the International Space Station by 2025 as NASA hopes.

The report from NASA Inspector General provided a closing argument against the Trump administration’s proposal to privatise or abandon the orbiting laboratory so soon, the US senators said, according to the Florida Today report.

“The defence rests,” quipped Senator Cruz of Texas. (IANS)