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NASA and Industry Partners Enhance Space Station Missions with Crew and Cargo Deliveries
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NASA and Industry Partners Enhance Space Station Missions with Crew and Cargo Deliveries
by Clarence Oxford
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Apr 26, 2024

NASA collaborates with commercial entities to ensure safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation of cargo and crew to and from the International Space Station. Serving as a hub for extensive microgravity research, the station has been operational for over two decades, facilitating a wide array of technology trials and scientific experiments across various disciplines.

Human Transportation
Through the Commercial Crew Program, NASA leverages industry partnerships to transport astronauts to the space station and low Earth orbit. These partnerships involve designing, building, testing, and operating capable transportation systems.

The presence of human operators at the station allows real-time monitoring of terrestrial events, direct handling of experimental samples, immediate observation of outcomes, optimal timing for data gathering, and onsite management and troubleshooting of scientific tasks. Additionally, crew members are tasked with preparing experiment samples for return to Earth for comprehensive analysis.

Boeing, a key NASA partner, is set to launch astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams aboard the Starliner spacecraft for a Crew Flight Test in May 2024. The launch, utilizing a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, will take place at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, marking a significant step towards certifying the Starliner for regular missions to the space station.

SpaceX, the other pivotal partner, has conducted multiple missions, including the uncrewed Demo-1 flight in March 2019 and the manned Demo-2 flight in May 2020, which transported astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the station. Since the initial operational mission, Crew-1, in November 2020, SpaceX has consistently deployed crews to the station aboard the Dragon spacecraft, launched via Falcon 9 rockets from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The increment in crewed flights has substantially expanded available research time and broadened the scope for commercial utilization of the station. Research outcomes have ranged from pharmaceutical developments to disaster management enhancements, materials science, robotics, bioprinting, and beyond.

Cargo Resupply
NASA's Commercial Resupply Services program sees partners like SpaceX and Northrop Grumman delivering essential cargo to the station using proprietary rockets and spacecraft. Since its first mission in 2013, Northrop Grumman's Cygnus spacecraft has completed 20 resupply missions as of January 2024.

Cygnus not only delivers supplies but also serves as a controlled environment to conduct potentially hazardous experiments, like the Spacecraft Fire Safety Experiments, post-departure from the station.

Sierra Space is also contributing to NASA's cargo transport capabilities with its Dream Chaser spacecraft, a reusable, winged vehicle designed for runway landings, which underwent an autonomous atmospheric test in 2017.

This partnership is part of NASA's broader strategy to fortify the U.S. commercial space sector while advancing next-generation space exploration technologies and planning lunar missions involving diverse astronaut teams.

Related Links
Commercial Crew Program
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