NASA Introduces Nine Astronauts for First Commercial Flights

NASA assigns crews to first test flights, missions on commercial spacecraft

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The first mission has been tasked to Josh Cassada (first time in space) and Sunita Williams, ISS astronaut.

On July 8, 2011, the space shuttle Atlantis launched from Kennedy Space Center, marking the last time a US astronaut was launched into space from American soil.

Boeing; Shayanne Gal/Business InsiderAn illustration of a NASA astronaut flying with Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon space capsules.

Robert Behnken, Doug Hurley, Eric Boe, Chris Ferguson, and Nicole Aunapu Mann are expected to launch aboard SpaceX and Boeing-operated vehicles in 2019, providing uncrewed flight tests of both spacecraft go well first.

NASA's Commercial Crew Program is facilitating the development of a US commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit. Boeing's first operational mission to the space station will mark his first time in space. The company's first mission, should the test be successful, will be flown by Victor Glover, at his first flight to space, and ISS veteran Michael Hopkins.

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner will be launched from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The two will also fly from different locations with SpaceX flying from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center - the same one used by the shuttles and the Saturn 5 moon rockets.

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In an interview, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine compared the crews to the Mercury astronauts, the seven test pilots featured in "The Right Stuff", who flew at the dawn of the Space Age.

The missions initiated by Boeing's and SpaceX's commercial spacecraft may be a gateway to the space station - and more broadly, Earth orbit - to welcome privately-funded visitors and spaceflight participants from nations that do not have their own domestic crewed spacecraft and rockets. He will be joined by Victor Glover, a Navy commander who will be making his first trip into space. Ferguson is the veteran of three space shuttle missions.

NASA's 30-year space shuttle program came to a close in 2011 so the space agency could focus on bigger journeys, like a mission to Mars. Each astronaut flew on two shuttle missions, including Hurley on the final shuttle flight, STS-135, in 2011. American astronauts have still traveled to space, but they've used Russia's Soyuz spacecraft at a cost of about $80 million per seat. He served more than 24 years in the US Marine Corps as a fighter pilot and a test pilot.

Each test flight will provide data on the performance of the rockets, spacecraft, ground systems, and operations to ensure the systems are safe to fly astronauts.

But NASA's options may be limited by the worldwide agreements that established the station in 1998.

"Because of the hard work of the folks that are here, and so many others, and an administration that is absolutely committed to space exploration, the health of NASA and our space exploration program is as strong as its ever been and it's getting stronger every day." said Bridenstine. It will be first spaceflight for 45-year-old Cassada while Williams has the experience of two stays at the ISS. In any case, SpaceX is now the presumed leader of the race to capture the flag left on the station by the final space shuttle crew-a flag that has been waiting to return to Earth for eight years and counting. She was selected by NASA to be an astronaut in 2013.

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