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Sunita Williams in NASA’s First Space Flights on Commercial Spacecraft


In the list of nine (9) astronauts named by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for its first human space flight programme on August 3 from the US soil , Indian-origin astronaut Sunita Pandya Williams has found a place in the coveted list, since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.

The selected nine astronauts will be on-board the Elon Musk-owned SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and global aviation firm Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. This programme is a part of the NASA’s Commercial Crew programme to send humans to the ISS (International Space Centre) on private US spacecraft. This effort from NASA to put crew in commercial crew spacecraft comes after years of vehicle development and building anticipation.

It is worth mentioning here that the team of nine astronauts comprising of eight active NASA astronauts and one former astronaut, will launch on Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Dragoncapsules to the International Space Station that will begin in the mid of 2019.

The NASA tweeted, “Future Commercial Crew astronauts will be riding to space on partner vehicles built by SpaceX & BoeingSpace,”

The Indian-origin astronaut, Williams, is named for the Boeing programme to the International Space Centre (ISS). The first test flight of the programme is scheduled for mid-2019.

Born in September 19, 1965 , Williams, who came to the NASA from the Navy of Indo-Slovian descent,wherein she was a test pilot, was selected as an astronaut in 1998 .

Regarding the programme, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine while interacting with the media said, “For the first time since 2011, we are on the verge of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil.”

Our country dreams of greater achievements in space are within our grasp. Bridenstine stated that this accomplished group of American astronauts to fly on new spacecraft developed by our commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX, will launch a new era of human spaceflight

In his statement to the media, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston Mark Geyer said that the men and women we assign to these first flights are at the forefront of this exciting new time for human spaceflight.

While naming the crew for the expedition, NASA announced that Sunita Williams will be accompanied by John Cassada aboard NASA’s first contracted Starliner mission. It will be Cassada’s first spaceflight.

The astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will fly together as SpaceX’s first Dragon crew.   SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will be lift top by the duo from the Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A- the same Florida launch pad where the space shuttle left Earth for the last time in July 2011.

In the same final space shuttle mission , Astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Mann will join the commander . This will also have former astronaut and now Boeing executive Christopher Ferguson as the crew of the Starliner test flight. Interestingly, Ferguson will be the first former NASA astronaut to return to orbit as a company’s crew member.

A NASA official further informed that Behnken, Hurley, Boe and Mann are the space agency’s  first astronauts to be named to the test flights of new US spacecraft since its announcement on March 1978 of the space shuttle’s first orbital flight test crews.

In addition to the above, two other astronauts-Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins- will fly on the first operational mission of SpaceX’s crewed Dragon. The NASA official states, “that NASA’s two-pair crewmates will fly to the station with Russian cosmonauts and international astronauts to be announced at a later date”.

This expedition may just act as a much needed catalyst as this trip may also open the space station- and more broadly the orbit of the earth for more privately-funded visitors and spaceflight participants from countries that are yet to have their own domesticated crewed spacecraft and rockets.

William  ran the first marathon by any person in space. Williams was listed as an entrant for the 2007  in Boston and completed the distance in distance in four hours and 24 minutes.In 2008, Williams participated in the Boston Marathon again, this time on Earth.