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NASA's first SpaceX astronauts ready for 'messy camping trip' to space

Reuters logo Reuters 05/06/2019 By Alan Devall


Victor J. Glover, Michael S. Hopkins, Robert L. Behnken posing for the camera: NASA commercial crew astronauts Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, Douglas Hurley and Bob Behnken pose for a portrait at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas © Reuters/MIKE BLAKE NASA commercial crew astronauts Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, Douglas Hurley and Bob Behnken pose for a portrait at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas

HOUSTON (Reuters) - The first U.S. astronauts chosen to fly aboard a SpaceX capsule built for NASA shrugged off a spate of design and test mishaps, saying such setbacks were "part of the process" and the new technology was far more advanced than the space shuttle program that ended eight years ago.

a man holding a sign: NASA commercial crew astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover run through a training session at a replica International Space Station (ISS) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas © Reuters/Mike Blake NASA commercial crew astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover run through a training session at a replica International Space Station (ISS) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas

Space shuttle veterans Bob Behnken, 48, and Doug Hurley, 52 are slated for blastoff later this year from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the debut manned flight of the Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station and back.

a close up of Victor J. Glover: NASA commercial crew astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover run through a training session at a replica International Space Station (ISS) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas © Reuters/MIKE BLAKE NASA commercial crew astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover run through a training session at a replica International Space Station (ISS) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas

(GRAPHIC: Falcon Flights - https://tmsnrt.rs/2VG685w)

Video screens monitor the inside of a replica International Space Station at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas © Reuters/MIKE BLAKE Video screens monitor the inside of a replica International Space Station at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas

Two fellow astronauts, Mike Hopkins, 50, and Victor Glover, 43, are designated for launch aboard the vehicle's first official operational mission at a later date, possibly with two more crew members from other countries.

a close up of a logo: NASA commercial crew astronaut Michael Hopkins wears a NASA Crew One logo on his shirt as he trains inside a replica International Space Station (ISS) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas © Reuters/MIKE BLAKE NASA commercial crew astronaut Michael Hopkins wears a NASA Crew One logo on his shirt as he trains inside a replica International Space Station (ISS) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas

While a series of design hitches and test accidents may end up pushing back this year's maiden launch to 2020, the astronauts voiced trust in the capabilities and safety of the space vehicles being developed through NASA's new commercial partnerships. They also said the business of space flight was not always neat and clean.

NASA commercial crew astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover run through a training session at a replica International Space Station (ISS) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas © Reuters/MIKE BLAKE NASA commercial crew astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover run through a training session at a replica International Space Station (ISS) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas

“People to a degree think it's pretty glamorous to be able to go into space, but it's actually like a messy camping trip,” Hurley told Reuters in recent interviews with the astronauts conducted at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

a person wearing a black hat: NASA commercial crew astronaut Victor Glover poses for a portrait at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas © Reuters/MIKE BLAKE NASA commercial crew astronaut Victor Glover poses for a portrait at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas

California-based SpaceX, the privately owned venture owned by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, successfully launched an unpiloted Crew Dragon to the space station in March on a test mission known as Demo 1. The capsule safely splashed down in the Atlantic and was recovered several days later.

a man wearing a hat: NASA commercial crew astronaut Douglas Hurley poses for a portrait at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas © Reuters/MIKE BLAKE NASA commercial crew astronaut Douglas Hurley poses for a portrait at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas

But the following month, on April 20, SpaceX experienced a high-profile setback when the same Crew Dragon blew up during a ground test of the vehicle's emergency abort thrusters, designed to propel the capsule and its crew to safety from atop the rocket in the event of a launch failure.

Robert L. Behnken in a blue shirt: NASA commercial crew astronauts Douglas Hurley and Bob Behnken pose for a portrait at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas © Reuters/MIKE BLAKE NASA commercial crew astronauts Douglas Hurley and Bob Behnken pose for a portrait at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas

INVESTIGATING 'ANOMALY'

a close up of a train station: A view showing a life-size replica of the International Space Station at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas © Reuters/MIKE BLAKE A view showing a life-size replica of the International Space Station at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas

The April accident, which SpaceX and NASA referred to as an "anomaly" in the bland parlance of aerospace engineers, is under investigation, although the astronaut team has been given "remarkable" access to the SpaceX-led inquiry, Behnken said.

a man standing in a room: NASA commercial crew astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover run through a training session at a replica International Space Station (ISS) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas © Reuters/MIKE BLAKE NASA commercial crew astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover run through a training session at a replica International Space Station (ISS) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas

"In general, the anomaly that happened to us in the past, that's the best kind because we'll figure that one out ... and we'll make sure that that's not going to happen again," Behnken said. "We're the risk-takers, and being informed on that risk is super important as well."

NASA commercial crew astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover run through a training session at a replica International Space Station (ISS) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas © Reuters/MIKE BLAKE NASA commercial crew astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover run through a training session at a replica International Space Station (ISS) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas

Hopkins said: "This is part of the process. It's not surprising that it's happened. We all wish that we haven't had some of these issues, but ... as long as you've got a good process, a good team put together, you can get through them."

a close up of a train station: A view inside a replica science lab of the International Space Station at Johnson Space Center in Houston © Reuters/MIKE BLAKE A view inside a replica science lab of the International Space Station at Johnson Space Center in Houston

The Crew Dragon and the Falcon 9 rocket that loft it into orbit are both SpaceX creations. The first crewed launch of the two will mark a major milestone, not only for Musk's company, but for NASA in its quest to resume human space flight from U.S. soil after nearly a decade.

Victor J. Glover holding a dog: NASA commercial crew astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover run through a training session at a replica International Space Station (ISS) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas © Reuters/MIKE BLAKE NASA commercial crew astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover run through a training session at a replica International Space Station (ISS) at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas

NASA is paying SpaceX and aerospace rival Boeing Co nearly $7 billion combined, for each to construct rocket-and-capsule launch systems for ferrying astronauts to the space station. Since NASA ended its space shuttle program in 2011, U.S. astronauts have had to fly aboard Russian-launched Soyuz spacecraft on missions to the orbital research laboratory.

a group of people sitting at a table: NASA commercial crew astronauts Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins talk over their flight procedures prior to a training flight in Houston, Texas © Reuters/MIKE BLAKE NASA commercial crew astronauts Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins talk over their flight procedures prior to a training flight in Houston, Texas

The first unmanned flight of Boeing's Starliner crew capsule is expected to follow on the heels of SpaceX's debut crewed mission, to be followed by a mission carrying actual astronauts into space in 2020. 

a man sitting in a chair talking on a cell phone: NASA commercial crew astronaut Victor Glover gears up for a training flight in Houston, Texas

NASA commercial crew astronaut Victor Glover gears up for a training flight in Houston, Texas
© Reuters/MIKE BLAKE

a fighter jet sitting on top of a runway: NASA commercial crew astronauts Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins taxi their T38 aircraft for a training flight in Houston, Texas

NASA commercial crew astronauts Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins taxi their T38 aircraft for a training flight in Houston, Texas
© Reuters/MIKE BLAKE

(Reporting by Alan Devall in Houston; Writing and additional reporting by Joey Roulette in Cape Canaveral; Florida; Editing by Steve Gorman, Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney)

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