NASA announces astronauts for first commercial spaceflights from U.S.


NASA has named nine USA astronauts who will fly aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft as part of the first crewed flight test and mission to the International Space Station.

The move marks a significant shift in the USA space program, which will now combine NASA-trained astronauts with private sector space capsules.

"This is a big deal for our country, and we want Americans to know that we are back", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said Friday. "This accomplished group of American astronauts, flying on new spacecraft developed by our commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX, will launch a new era of human spaceflight".

On Friday, NASA announced the astronauts that will fly on the first flights of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's crewed Dragon capsule.

In 2014, Boeing and SpaceX were awarded a combined $6.8 billion in contracts from NASA to develop spacecraft capable of flying crews to the station, the orbiting laboratory.

"The first flight is something you dream about as a test pilot", said Hurley, who flew on the last shuttle mission.

"NASA's Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to US soil, providing safe, reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety and mission requirements", read the agency's statement.

Pioneering flights to the International Space Station aboard commercially built crew capsules will be the first leaving United States soil to put people into orbit. He was selected by NASA in 2009, and spent 166 days aboard the International Space Station during a mission that launched on a Russian rocket in 2013.

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Additional crew members will be assigned by NASA's global partners at a later date. Space X, the private space company founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk put out Dragon as the first private aircraft to berth with the ISS.

For Starliner, that will see Navy commander and test pilot Josh Cassada make his first spaceflight, joined by Sunita Williams, a former Navy test pilot and captain before joining NASA.

NASA plans to launch American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station next year - and a Cal Poly alumnus has been selected to pilot one of the missions.

The crew assignments came a day after NASA issued new schedules for the uncrewed and crewed test flights, pushing back the flights by several months from earlier schedules. Chris Ferguson and Marine Corps test pilot Nicole Mann, who will conduct the first Starliner flight test sometime in mid-2019. NASA will only put astronauts on board once uncrewed flight tests have made the return journey to Earth and spacecraft systems have been validated by data reviews.

Since the shuttle was retired seven years ago, American astronauts have had to fly on Russian rockets from a remote launch site in Kazakhstan. Once the spacecraft is attached to the space station, it's created to stay there for 210 days.

The announcement can be seen on NASA TV and streamed on NASA's Facebook.

The Starliner spacecraft is being outfitted at the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, according to NASA.