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

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

The test flights and missions aboard Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, slated for as early as April 2019, will "begin a new era in America spaceflight", the US space agency said.

In a statement released Thursday, NASA and its Commercial Crew partners revealed more details of the effort to carry astronauts from the U.S.to the International Space Station.

Crewed test flights will likely occur next spring, with Chris Ferguson, a Boeing vice president who was the commander of the last shuttle mission, Eric Boe, a former shuttle pilot, and Nicole Aunapu Mann, a former Navy pilot who will be making her first space flight, onboard the Boeing CST-100 Starliner.

The eight NASA astronauts will also be joined by a Boeing astronaut.

A two-man team of NASA astronauts will ride SpaceX's Crew Dragon into orbit on its first crewed test flight, targeted for launch in April 2019. Additional crew members will be assigned by NASA's global partners in the space station at a later date, the agency said. He flew aboard three shuttle missions, including the program's final mission in 2011. While both companies had recently said they would fly their first test flights with astronauts on board by the end of this year, those flights are now scheduled for 2019.

An artist's conception shows SpaceX's Crew Dragon spaceship docking with the International Space Station, plus a cargo-carrying version of the Dragon in the foreground.

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SpaceX and Boeing have been working on their space taxi programs for almost four years, with the aim of transporting astronauts to and from the space station for NASA.

The announcement is a big deal because the last American crew-carrying spacecraft - NASA's fleet of four space shuttle orbiters - retired in July 2011. SpaceX will launch the Crew Dragon, while Boeing will launch its CST-100 Starliner.

Additional crew members will be assigned by NASA's global partners at a later date. The astronauts are, from left to right: Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Douglas Hurley, Robert Behnken, Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover. Mann was selected as an astronaut in 2013. "We had our quarterly [review] this week, and for the first time in years, it felt real". Boeing is aiming for a test flight at the end of this year or early next, and the first crew flight in the middle of next year. "To meet NASA's requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station".

Both companies will also conduct abort system test flights to ensure the astronauts can safely escape should their rockets go awry. 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.

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.

Boeing's Starliner will launch aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. "Falcon 9's first and second stages for the Demo-1 mission are targeted to ship from SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, California to the company's rocket testing facility in McGregor, Texas for additional testing in August", NASA said.

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