Meet NASA's New Astronauts Flying SpaceX And Boeing Ships to Space

Starliner and Crew Dragon

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Friday (local time) announced the names of the first astronauts to fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station.

Boeing's first Starliner crew will include a former NASA astronaut who commanded the last shuttle flight in 2011, Chris Ferguson, who's now a Boeing employee.

"We believe, the earliest time we can confidently do that will be in mid-2019 after flying an uncrewed flight test late this year or early next year", said John Mulholland, vice president and programme manager for Boeing's Commercial Crew effort, in a NASA blogpost. The astronauts are: (from left to right) Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, Nicole Aunapu Mann, Chris Ferguson of Boeing, Eric Boe, Josh Cassada and Sunita Williams.

"We are on the brink of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil", said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine during the "Launch America" announcement. Boeing's Ferguson was pilot on STS-116 on board Space Shuttle Atlantis as well as commander of STS-126 on Space Shuttle Endeavour and the final flight of the space shuttle program, STS-135 on board Atlantis.

All nine have military experience in Navy, Air Force, or Marines.

This mission, now targeted for April 2019, will liftoff from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida with the astronauts aboard Crew Dragon atop a Falcon 9 rocket. Since then, every nation on Earth has relied on Russian Federation to get to the International Space Station.

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The astronauts assigned to the Starliner's first mission are Sunita Williams, who retired as a Navy captain, and Cmdr. Success in these missions means that the Boeing and SpaceX spacecraft could start regular servicing missions to the ISS.

The research taking place on the International Space Station is providing valuable information and breakthroughs for life on the ground. A NASA press release says more crew members may be added to those flights later. With 322 days in space, Williams is sixth all-time on NASA's spaceflight endurance list and second all-time among female astronauts.

Both Boeing and SpaceX are also working with Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas company that plans to launch private space stations into orbit, to be leased to nations or companies. "This is a test pilot's dream". The first Crew Dragon arrived in Florida back in July for final processing, and NASA said the Falcon 9 that will be used for the uncrewed test flight will ship to Texas for testing in August. He's performed six spacewalks totaling almost 40 hours.

Victor Glover is from Pomona, California.

"Both contractors have said that their schedules are aggressive and they set ambitious-rather than realistic-dates, only to frequently delay them", says Cristina Chaplain, the GAO director who provides oversight for NASA, including the Commercial Crew program. Boe was selected by NASA to be an astronaut in 2000.

Glover will partner with NASA veteran Mike Hopkins, 49, who spent 166 days aboard the space station in 2014, during their mission aboard the Crew Dragon capsule.

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