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Russia’s Possible Omission from Starliner’s Maiden Operational Mission

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is poised for its Crew Flight Test (CFT) mission, scheduled for a launch no earlier than May 6, 10:34 p.m. Eastern Time. This mission marks the culmination of testing before Starliner’s certification for crew rotation missions to the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Nears Milestone

With the successful completion of the CFT mission, NASA aims to certify Starliner for operational use. Astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams are set to conduct the week-long mission, a crucial step in NASA’s endeavor to have two independent space transportation systems through its commercial crew program.

Crew Assignment for Starliner-1 and Russian Participation

Starliner-1, slated for an early 2025 launch, has three crew members confirmed: NASA astronauts Scott Tingle and Mike Fincke, along with Canadian Space Agency astronaut Joshua Kutryk. However, the assignment of the fourth crew member remains pending, with indications that it may not be a Russian cosmonaut, disrupting the ongoing seat exchange arrangement between NASA and Roscosmos.

Uncertainty in Seat Exchange Dynamics

Since the fall of 2022, one seat on commercial crew missions has been allocated to a Russian cosmonaut as part of an agreement between NASA and Roscosmos. However, the absence of a Russian cosmonaut on Starliner-1 could pose challenges to the integrated crew approach, albeit temporarily.

Future of Integrated Crews

Despite the potential disruption, NASA remains committed to integrated crew missions, ensuring collaboration between American and Russian astronauts onboard the ISS. While specifics regarding crew exchanges for Starliner-1 are yet to be finalized, both NASA and Roscosmos are working towards a solution to maintain the integrity of integrated crews.

Long-Term Plans for ISS Crew Rotation

Upon Starliner’s certification, NASA intends to alternate between Starliner and Crew Dragon for ISS crew rotation missions. Boeing holds a contract for six operational missions, aligning with NASA’s strategy until the scheduled retirement of the ISS in 2030.


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