CAPE CANAVERAL – Space company United Launch Alliance is busily preparing for the return of manned missions from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
“Human spaceflight can inspire the public and inspire scientists in a way that no other activities can,” ULA CEO Tory Bruno told Fox News. “It means so much to us to have human spaceflight from American soil returning Americans to space, I cannot begin to tell you what that means to myself and my team.”
United Launch Alliance is involved in NASA’s Commercial Crew program that will take American astronauts into space on missions launched from U.S. soil. Since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, the U.S. has been relying on Russian Soyuz rockets, launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, to get astronauts to the International Space Station.
NASA recently named the nine American astronauts that will crew the test flights and first missions of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. The Starliner will launch atop a ULA Atlas V rocket from ULA’s Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral.
“We have added a Crew Access Tower that allows the astronauts to arrive at the height above the ground where they will enter their capsule,” Bruno said. “It also has a Crew Access Arm that can swing out, with its White Room, and allow them to get access to that capsule, and then pull away so that the rocket can take off and leave.”
A longstanding feature of human spaceflight, White Rooms are specially-designed areas that prevent contaminants from getting into the spacecraft. Astronauts also use White Rooms to make final phone calls to their families before blasting off into space.
ULA has also built an escape system that employs a sophisticated zipline-type technology, enabling astronauts and launch pad personnel to quickly evacuate the tower in the event of an accident. “That would allow them to very quickly exit that area to a safe distance,” Bruno explained.
Crew for the Starliner test flight are NASA astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Aunapu-Mann and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson. The first Boeing mission to the International Space Station will be crewed by NASA astronauts Josh Cassada and Suni Williams.
Boeing plans to do an uncrewed flight test of its CST-100 Starliner later this year or early next year.
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