NASA Commercial Crew astronauts watch construction of Starliner spacecraft

Boeing, United Launch Alliance prepare for 2019 launch from Cape

By James Sparvero - Reporter

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. - Inside Boeing's High Bay facility, where the Space Shuttle used to be processed, five of NASA's nine Commercial Crew astronauts watched work continue on the new CST-100 Starliner.

"Knowing that you're going to launch to space is pretty incredible," astronaut Nicole Mann said. "To meet the folks who are actually putting the hardware in the vehicle and building it, real time, is amazing."

The astronauts called the CST-100 Starliner a safer, smaller spacecraft than the shuttle.

Their visit to Kennedy Space Center on Thursday included touring Pad 41, where a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will launch the crews inside the Starliners toward the International Space Station.

"We're going to build it and fly it," astronaut Chris Ferguson said.

A former shuttle commander, Ferguson was aboard the final flight of Atlantis in 2011 and he will be on a three-person crew aboard the first piloted mission of the Starliner.

Another veteran shuttle pilot, Eric Boe, and a rookie astronaut, Nicole Mann, are also part of his team.

Josh Cassada also will be a first-time space flier.

"They're just building an incredible vehicle for us to take," Cassada said.

While new to spaceflight, Cassada said he's very confident to be the under the wing of shuttle veteran Suni Williams.

Cassada and Williams will complete a four-person international crew aboard the second Starliner flight.

"Every day is a confidence builder, because you're like, 'Oh, let's try this. Let's try that.' We bring our experience from the past where we've had little malfunctions and we try to interject them into these new (spacecraft)," Williams said. "When it's ready, we're going to be ready to jump right in it."

The first crewed test flight is targeted for May 2019.

SpaceX may beat ULA to the ISS.

The first Crew Dragon flight is scheduled for April 2019.

Both companies' flights are behind original schedules.

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