Sunita Williams among 9 astronauts to fly first commercial spacecraft


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's announcement signals a milestone in the USA space program, with its shift to the private sector for ferrying cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station.

The Indian-origin astronaut, Williams, is named for the Boeing programme to the International Space Centre (ISS). These nine American astronauts will launch on the first missions from American soil in American spacecraft since the Shuttle program ended in 2011.

The first crewed test flight of SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule will include NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. The crew is assigned to the first flight tests and missions of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon.

A NASA official further informed that Behnken, Hurley, Boe and Mann are the space agency's first astronauts to be named to the test flights of new U.S. spacecraft since its announcement on March 1978 of the space shuttle's first orbital flight test crews.

On Boeing's first post-certification mission, NASA astronaut Suni Williams, who has flown on the space station two times already, will fly to the outpost again with first-time space flier Josh Cassada.

NASA is just as thrilled as Boeing and SpaceX to launch a new era of partnership with commercial entities and flying commercial spacecraft, so long as it stays afloat.

There will first be a test flight for each capsule without a crew - towards the International Space Station and back, planned to be finished by the end of this year or early next year.

The new SpaceX and Boeing launch and entry spacesuits are displayed as NASA announces the crew assignments for the first flight tests missions of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston Texa
Astronauts picked for SpaceX, Boeing capsule test flights

In addition to the above, two other astronauts-Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins- will fly on the first operational mission of SpaceX's crewed Dragon. Dragons, meanwhile, will fly on SpaceX's own Falcon 9 rockets. Boeing and SpaceX were selected in September 2014 as the companies who would have the privilege to transport NASA's astronauts to the orbiting laboratory.

The vessels, the SpaceX Dragon and Boeing Starliner, have been developed with billions of dollars in funding from NASA, which has contracted SpaceX and Northrop Grumman to make cargo deliveries to the space station since 2012. Mann's flight with Boeing will be her first to space.

This crew is made up of three astronauts: Eric Boe, who was the pilot of the space shuttle Endeavor; Chris Ferguson, who took part in the last launch; and rookie Nicole A. Mann. Since then, NASA's astronauts have reached the ISS on Russian Soyuz rockets launched from Kazakhstan, for which the USA had to pay tens of millions of dollars per seat. He flew on two flights of the space shuttle including the final mission, Atlantis's STS-135. It won't be the first time SpaceX trounces Boeing.

When test flights do launch, Boeing's flight is dubbed Orbital Flight Test followed by Crew Flight Test. SpaceX's first flight is dubbed Demonstration Mission 1 followed by Demonstration Mission 2.

"It's absolutely an opportunity of a lifetime", said Mann, who was selected as an astronaut in 2013. It will be Glover's first mission. The companies will also ensure astronauts' safe escape in case their rockets go awry by conducting abort system test flights. And Nasa also named the astronauts for those flights as well.

Dragon is the only space station resupply spacecraft now capable of returning cargo to Earth, and this was the second trip to the orbiting laboratory for this spacecraft.

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