NASA has reportedly updated its commercial crew contract with Boeing and has asked the company to send three of its crew members to the International Space Station for six months instead of earlier planned time period of two weeks.
NASA had introduced the Commercial Crew Program, under which, two private companies – Boeing and SpaceX are developing private vehicles to transport astronauts to and from the ISS. But before NASA begins to send out full missions using Boeing and SpaceX spacecraft, the space agency had asked both companies to make two test flights to the ISS first: one without people on board and then one with crew. Hence, Boeing was prepping up its Starline spacecraft for a two-crew test mission to the ISS for two weeks – which will confirm that these mission crafts are capable of carrying astronauts safely.
But as per NASA’s latest update, the first Boeing crew what will fly to the International Space Station (ISS) will be allowed to stay longer than what was planned originally – besides having an extra crew member too. The extended test mission almost seems like a full crewed mission – the kind that it will be doing regularly once it’s Starliner is qualified for flight. The reason for the extension for Boeing could be that NASA is running out of ways to send astronauts to the ISS. Currently, NASA astronauts fly using Russian Soyuz rockets, and the space agency has seats booked on flights of the vehicle for the next two years. Which means, NASA will need to rely in commercial crew partners to take and bring back astronauts to and fro the ISS.
This development will mean complete restructuring of the first crewed trip for Starliner, which was only meant to be a test flight. But considering that Commercial Crew program has suffered a number of setbacks and both companies are yet to conduct their first crewed flight tests later this year – there are chances that upcoming missions could be delayed. After successful test missions, it could take up to six months before the companies are ready to begin full missions.