The crew, all veterans of previous ISS missions, will include Akihiko Hoshide with Japan’s JAXA space agency, Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency and NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur — who two months ago watched her husband Robert Behnken co-pilot the first-ever crewed flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule.
Putting four astronauts on SpaceX’s spring 2021 mission, dubbed Crew-2, will bring the number of people staffing the ISS to seven, allowing “NASA to effectively double the amount of science that can be conducted in space,” the agency said Tuesday.
Five people are currently on board the ISS: Two Russian cosmonauts and NASA’s Chris Cassidy, Douglas Hurley, and Behnken, The latter two arrived at the space station in May after commanding SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule on its historic journey. It marked the first time in history that a commercial vehicle carried humans into orbit and the first crewed launch from US soil since NASA’s Space Shuttle retired in 2011.
NASA has waited for years to regain the ability to fly its own astronauts to and from the space station. After the Shuttle program ended, the space agency had to rely on Russia’s Soyuz vehicles to ferry NASA crews to the ISS, and the United States has paid Russia as much as $90 million per seat for those trips.
Rather than building its own replacement for the Space Shuttle, however, NASA asked the private sector to develop spacecraft capable to design and develop its own vehicles so that the space agency could focus on exploring deeper into the solar system.
In 2014, NASA awarded two fixed-price contracts: $4.2 billion for Boeing and $2.6 billion to SpaceX, which planned to design a crew-worthy version of the Dragon capsule that had already been flying cargo to and from the International Space Station.
After both companies struggled with development delays, SpaceX beat Boeing to the launch pad with Hurley and Behnken’s crewed test mission earlier this year.
Boeing, which suffered significant setbacks during a test in December, is planning to repeat an uncrewed test mission later this year.