NASA has announced that Boeing’s first crewed commercial test flight CST – 100 Starliner to International Space Station will be allowed to stay for an extended period when it does get there towards end of this year. The mission duration said NASA will be determined later as this extended mission will turn this test flight into a crew rotation trip as NASA’s access to seats at Soyuz will run out by them. Two astronauts Nicole Mann and Mike Fincke from NASA are scheduled to fly to ISS on Boeing’s Crew Flight Test and have been training for extended stay.
These two astronauts will be accompanied by Boeing test pilot and former astronaut Chris Ferguson. The extended stay accessed by NASA as safe as per statement of director of commercial spaceflight division Phil McAlister and he declared that commercial flight tests and Soyuz opportunities help them to transition with next-generation commercial systems. During February NASA issued a procurement notice stated that it wants to purchase a couple of seats at Soyuz from Roscosmos which is owned by Russian State Space as Russians were not planning to use them. NASA had that these additional seats would ensure continued access to ISS if there is a delay in US crew launches.
The NASA statement was announced a day after Boeing declared that its first Starliner crewless test flight was likely to be delayed to August. NASA stated that the delay was due to limited launch opportunities on Atlas 5 and launch of national security payload during same period. Though Starliner that will part of Orbital Flight Test is ready Boeing will use the interim time to conduct additional tests on the spacecraft. SpaceX has no plans to extend its crewed test flight on Crew Dragon spacecraft Demo 2 when it flies out later this year with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley that will spend just a couple of weeks on International Space Station.