NASA has assigned the astronauts who will ride the first commercial capsules into orbit next year and bring human launches back to the U.S.
Since the space shuttle program was shut down, the USA space agency NASA has had to rely on Russian Federation to fly astronauts to space station, a $100 billion orbital research laboratory that flies about 250 miles (402 km) above Earth.
NASA on Thursday said it expects SpaceX to fly its first astronauts in April of 2019 and Boeing will follow, launching astronauts into space in the middle of next year.
Following this first trial flight, two pilots will travel in the Starliner to the ISS: Suni Williams, who since he was picked to be an astronaut in 1998 has made seven space flights and has spent more than 322 days in the stratosphere, and Josh Cassada, who has yet to make his first space flight.
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By handing off crew and cargo runs to the space station - which will keep orbiting until at least 2024 - NASA has set its sight on the moon and Mars, developing the Orion capsule and the massive Space Launch System rocket. He is the last person to serve as a commander for the NASA space shuttle program. "The result is that we'll have a better and safer spacecraft", he said. He joined the astronaut corps in 2000 and flew aboard space shuttle Endeavour twice, for the STS-123 and STS-130 missions, during which he performed six spacewalks totaling more than 37 hours. They were two of the four astronauts selected by NASA in July 2015 to be trained to fly commercial crew missions. Boeing said earlier this week it would carry out a test flight of the Starliner vehicle without humans later this year or in early 2019, after it suffered an issue with the capsule's launch abort system during a test in New Mexico in June, according to SpaceNews.
SpaceX did not give a reason for the delay of its first crewed test flight. NASA is working with Space X and Boeing to develop the spacecraft.
SpaceX's Post-Certification Mission for the Crew Dragon Team Victor Glover (left) and Mike Hopkins (right). He flew on Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2008 with fellow Georgia Tech graduates Sandy Magnus and Shane Kimbrough. Since then, NASA has been forced to rely exclusively on Russia's increasingly expensive Soyuz spaceships to get to the International Space Station (ISS), in which the USA government has invested about $100 billion. It will be Cassada's first spaceflight.
SpaceX has also faced its own problems, particularly with its Falcon 9 rocket that will power the Dragon into space.
SpaceX's first crew will include naval aviator Victor Glover, also a novice to spaceflight, and shuttle veteran Michael Hopkins. The spacecraft will dock and undock autonomously to the space station before flying their crew back to Earth.
NASA plans to announce its final decision on the crews - two astronauts for each of the four crewed test flights - on Friday morning.