SpaceX hires ex-NASA human spaceflight expert and shows off Crew Dragon set to carry astronauts

SpaceX is gearing up for its historic first human spaceflight, with a crewed demonstration mission of its Crew Dragon spacecraft tentatively set for May 7 (though that date is flexible right now). The company on Tuesday showed a clip of the completed Crew Dragon spacecraft, which will carry astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, undergoing testing, and CNBC revealed that it had hired former NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations William Gerstenmaier.

Gerstenmaier served NASA for 14 years in that capacity, and was with the agency for 40 years working on the Space Shuttle program as well as the International Space Station. It’s likely there are few other individuals in the world, if any, who have as much experience as he does with flying people in space, which makes him a very clutch hire for SpaceX as it readies itself for the operational kick-off of its human spaceflight program.

After the Demo-2 mission later this year, which will be the first to carry astronauts, the next step is for SpaceX to become a regular provider of crew transportation for NASA, ferrying people to and from the Space Station for regular crew change operations. NASA currently relies on transportation aboard Russian Soyuz rockets operated by Roscosmos to get personnel to and from the orbital lab, an arrangement that’s been in place since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011.

Meanwhile, SpaceX also shared a short video clip of the Crew Dragon spacecraft that will carry Behnken and Hurley to the ISS sometime later this year. The capsule is in a specialized testing chamber, undergoing electromagnetic interference testing, a key part of its verification process before being fully certified for flight. Earlier this week, Ars Technica reported that nearly everything was ready in terms of preparation for the Demo-2 mission, and that it should take place sometime between April and June, with May 7 as the current working date.