NASA has revealed the nine astronauts who will man the first commercial spaceflights, as the United States prepares to once again begin launching manned missions after retiring the Space Shuttle.
Williams was selected as an astronaut in 1998 and has spent 322 days in space over the course of two missions, including one in which she was the commander of the International Space Station. "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", Mr. Bridenstine said.
The crew for the SpaceX Crew Dragon test flight, which may end up being the first to launch, features two NASA astronauts: Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. SpaceX has leased NASA's historic Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida to launch Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.
Boeing test pilot Chris Ferguson, who commanded NASA's last space shuttle mission in 2011, appears to be a sure thing for the first Starliner crew, based on advance reports.
The successful flight marked the scheduled end of the 30-year space shuttle program. The agency has contracted six missions, with as many as four astronauts per mission, for each company.More news: Tourist plane crashes in Swiss Alps, 20 dead
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"What an exciting and wonderful day", Jim Bridenstine, NASA's administrator, said at the announcement at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. NASA has been paying Russian Federation for flights launched from remote Kazakhstan to the ISS ever since, banking on its Commercial Crew Program to develop a cheaper, reliable and safe American-based alternative. NASA had originally expected the companies to have their spacecraft ready for missions to the International Space Station by the end of past year, but neither were able to meet that target. Similarly, the first Starliner is being now being outfitted for launch at Kennedy Space Center, and the test flight's Atlas V Centaur upper stage-never flown in the dual-engine configuration-ships to Florida in August.
It is true, however, that SpaceX and Boeing are paying to use some facilities owned by NASA and the U.S. Air Force.
Finally, Nicole Aunapu Mann is a Marine Corps lieutenant, and will be making her first trip to space. Josh Cassada and Suni Williams will be the second crew for the Starliner and Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins will be the second crew for the Dragon. SpaceX is targeting April 2019 for its crewed demonstration flight, Demo-2. It will be Mr. Cassada's first spaceflight. While in the Air Force, he flew in 55 combat missions over Iraq. "This is a test pilot's dream".
"Rockets are fun. I'll be ready, I can't wait", Williams said in an interview posted Friday on the International Space Station Facebook page. NASA is working with Space X and Boeing to develop the spacecraft.
More astronauts will be announced to join the crews at a later date, NASA said.
Glover, a former Navy commander and test pilot, was also among the 2013 astronaut class.