Shuttle veterans Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are unfazed by recent problems on the SpaceX project.
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, 48, and Doug Hurley, 52, have spoken about their role in piloting the first operational manned flight of the Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station and back. The men, both veterans of the Space Shuttle program, are planned to undertake the mission either later this year or early in 2020. A co-venture between NASA and Elon Musk's private SpaceX enterprise, it is hoped that Crew Dragon will open up new possibilities for space exploration, including the ability to take civilian passengers and eventually establish a permanent landing site on the Moon, from where longer range manned flights to Mars might be possible.
For now, the emphasis is on getting Crew Dragon to the ISS and back to Earth safely. An unmanned test flight, code named Demo 1, was successfully carried out in March with the capsule landing in the Atlantic where it was retrieved intact. However, that same capsule exploded on April 20 during a ground test of the emergency abort thrusters which are intended to propel the capsule and crew to a safe distance in the event of a catastophic failure of the launch rocket. This setback - or "anomaly" as NASA called it - made a planned July date for the first manned launch out of the question, as NASA and SpaceX mounted investigations as to what went wrong.
NASA has invested $7bn in two privately developed systems for ferrying crew to and from the ISS now that the Shuttle is decommissioned. Boeing's rival project, the Starliner capsule, will now have its manned launch before the SpaceX project, assuming it keeps to its scheduled August lift-off date.
If these problems have given Behnken and Hurley the jitters, they're not showing it. Speaking to Reuters at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Hurley said:"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.”
The astronauts are apparently being given "remarkable" access to the investigations into the failed test capsule, and are taking it in their stride. "In general, the anomaly that happened to us in the past, that’s the best kind because we’ll figure that one out," said Behnken, "And we’ll make sure that that’s not going to happen again. We’re the risk-takers, and being informed on that risk is super important as well.”