Joshua Kutryk: Looking Forward to Starliner

Astronaut Joshua Kutryk undergoes NBL training. Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

The last time SpaceQ caught up with Canadian astronaut Joshua Kutryk (in March 2022), he was spending his time ferrying NASA personnel in his Northrop T-38 jet, supporting spacewalkers on the International Space Station, and preparing the agency to fly the Boeing Starliner space capsule.

Today, Kutryk remains in these roles, with the Starliner high on his priority list. That’s because, after a problem-plagued first uncrewed Orbital Flight Test (OFT) in December 2019, the Starliner successfully completed its second uncrewed OFT to the ISS in May 2022.

With the uncrewed flight tests completed, “we’re very excited about the Crewed Flight Test, the first flight of that new vehicle with crew in it hopefully here in April,” said Kutryk. “My primary role (for the CFT) is to be the CAPCOM for some of the more dynamic phases of that mission, mainly the ascent, the docking, the undocking, and the re-entry back to Earth’s atmosphere after it’s all said and done.”

As a result of his commitment to the Starliner, Joshua Kutryk now spends much of his time working with the CFT crew — Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore — the Starliner capsule selected for the mission, and Mission Control. According to the NASA blog, the Starliner will launch using a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. It will return about eight days later to White Sands, New Mexico, landing in the ground rather than the sea.

The fact that the Boeing Starliner has experienced issues during its OFT phase comes as no surprise to Kutryk. “The Starliner is a very capable spacecraft and that’s part of the reason why it’s taken a while to develop and get flying,” he explained. “It has a lot of redundancy built in, including what I would call ‘human in the loop’ redundancy to go through.” This is why the Starliner can survive a number of “contingency situations” and “take a lot of damage,” due to the crew’s ability to intervene and take direct control. 

“There’s a lot of failure modes that we can recover from with the crew,” said Kutryk. “In that sense, we’re talking about more or less manually piloting the vehicle through some of these more complex operations, specifically the rendezvous and the docking, undocking and the reentry.”

Meanwhile, given the disabling coolant leak suffered by the Soyuz capsule currently docked at the ISS, having a second commercial space vehicle (after Dragon) available to take astronauts/cosmonauts to and from Earth orbit will be extremely good news. “That’s a big strategic step forward and I think that everyone’s pretty anxious to see that happen,” Kutryk said.

Like the other three Canadian Space Agency astronauts, Joshua Kutryk is in the running for the Canadian seat on the Artemis II mission to the Moon. And like the other CSA astronauts who have spoken to SpaceQ recently, he is very diplomatic when asked about his hopes for winning that seat. 

“We have the hardware, we have the rocket, we have the spaceship, and it’s just a matter of time before that historic mission blastoff, which is amazing and a wonderful thing for the four of us, of course,” said Kutryk. “It’ll be the furthest and the fastest that anyone has ever gone in the  history of human beings, and one of them’s going to be Canadian.” 

As for choosing between flying Artemis II to the Moon and back in about 10 days, or spending many months on the ISS in 2025? “Let me put it this way: I know that I don’t get a choice,” Kutryk concluded. “And even if I did, I’m not sure that I’d want one. I’d just be grateful to participate in any way that I could.”

About James Careless

James Careless is an award-winning satellite communications writer. He has covered the industry since the 1990s.

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