NASA picks diverse astronaut roster for SpaceX Crew Dragon 2021 mission

A render of SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft in orbit. (SpaceX)

With Demo-2, the final certification test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule nearing completion, NASA is looking ahead to future operational crewed missions. NASA previously announced that following NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley’s successful return from the International Space Station (ISS) in early August, three NASA astronauts and one Japanese astronaut of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) would soon be following on their own flight to the Space Station, SpaceX’s first operational crewed flight known as “Crew-1.” This mission is tentatively scheduled to occur no earlier than Fall of 2020.

Just days ahead of Demo-2’s anticipated conclusion, NASA, along with its international partners, has announced the roster and date of SpaceX’s third operational crewed mission referred to as “Crew-2.” Like Crew-1, the Crew-2 mission will feature a diverse international roster of four astronauts. Onboard will be veteran flyers, NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, along with JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet. Should everything go as planned with Crew-1, Crew Dragon’s third operational crewed flight, Crew-2, is scheduled for liftoff no earlier than the Spring of 2021.

The members of the SpaceX Crew-2 mission to the International Space Station. Pictured from left are NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet. (Credits: NASA)

NASA keeps it in the family

One Crew-2 participant stands out from the rest, NASA astronaut Megan McArthur. She is a veteran NASA flyer having previously flown aboard the STS-125 space shuttle Atlantis mission in May of 2009. Although Crew-2 will be her second time to orbit, it will be her first visit to the ISS. During her first mission, she spent her time in orbit serving as a Mission Specialist servicing NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. In 2019 she was appointed as NASA’s Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office ISS Operations Branch, a role in which she provides support to astronauts in training and aboard the ISS.

Not only is McArthur an experienced space flyer and well-versed in mission support, but she is also married to NASA astronaut Bob Behnken. While Behnken served as Joint Operations Commander for Crew Dragon’s Demo-2 mission, McArthur was back at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, CA training for her own Crew Dragon mission to the ISS.

McArthur was joined by her NASA and international partners Crew-2 crewmates to train at the SpaceX facility utilizing the Crew Dragon simulator. According to an interview with ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, the entire crew has been at various training facilities located in Texas and California presumably for weeks familiarizing themselves with Crew Dragon and ISS specific training, just as Behnken and Hurley did prior to their Demo-2 departure.

Commercial and international crew will bring the ISS to full capacity

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough will fly for his third trip to orbit after having previously flown aboard space shuttle Endeavour for STS-126 and aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for Expedition 49/50 in 2016. Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide will be the second JAXA astronaut to fly aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon following Soichi Noguchi on Crew-1. ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet will be the first European to fly aboard the Crew Dragon. It will be his second mission to orbit following a six-month-long stay aboard the ISS in 2016.

The 2021 Crew-2 mission will increase the number of ISS occupants from six to a full complement of seven. Crew-2’s four Dragon Riders will be joined by a three-member crew set to launch aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The increase of long-duration crew members will allow NASA to “effectively double the amount of science that can be conducted in space,” as stated in an official NASA Commercial Crew blog post. The Crew-2 astronauts are expected to stay aboard the orbiting outpost for six months.

Jamie Groh: Space Reporter.
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