Astronauts Picked for SpaceX, Boeing Capsule Test Flights

Starliner and Crew Dragon

Starliner and Crew Dragon

Ferguson will fly with NASA astronauts Eric Boe, a veteran of two Space Shuttle missions, and Nicole Aunapu Mann on the first crewed test flight of Starliner, which is now projected to take place in mid-2019.

Indian-origin US astronaut Sunita Williams is among the nine astronauts named by NASA who will fly the first missions into space on commercially provided rockets and capsules, starting next year.

"It will be thrilling to see our astronauts lift off from American soil, and we can't wait to see them aboard the International Space Station", Mr. Geyer said.

On the first human test flight of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft, NASA selected astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Mann to join Boeing executive Chris Ferguson.

The coming launches will be the first from American soil since the Space Shuttle's 2011 retirement, according to a NASA news release. "Today's announcement advances our great American vision and strengthens the nation's leadership in space".

NASA has announced the crews for its first manned flights of SpaceX's Dragon and Boeing's Starliner crew transports to the International Space Station planned for next year.

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

"I've been waiting for this day." said Sunita Williams, who was one of the four astronauts that has been working with both commercial partners for the last three years.

American astronauts haven't launched from the US since 2011, and the first commercial company to make that happen first will undoubtedly receive accolades.

The missions are expected to take the astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

"Once you get into the spacecraft, you're on your way, you've got a mission, you're focused, and it's really exciting", she said.

SpaceX's first NASA mission to the ISS, in turn, will include Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins.

"This was above and beyond the NASA requirement in the contract", Kathy Lueders, Commercial Crew Program manager at NASA Kennedy, said in a statement.

Also, flying on the first crewed test flight of SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft will be Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley. The first mission has been tasked to Josh Cassada (first time in space) and Sunita Williams, ISS astronaut. The NASA official states, "that NASA's two-pair crewmates will fly to the station with Russian cosmonauts and worldwide astronauts to be announced at a later date".

Williams has been named for the Boeing programme to the ISS - the first test flight scheduled to take place in the middle of 2019. The crewed flight tests will mostly mirror the uncrewed missions, except a flight commander and pilot will be manning each mission once they are ready for a human crew.

If those flights are successful, the companies will be certified by NASA for crew rotation missions.

As for being the only non-NASA guy on board, Ferguson explained later during a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" program that Boeing always uses company test pilots for first flights "and the Starliner is no exception". NASA had originally expected the companies to have their spacecraft ready for missions to the International Space Station by the end of previous year, but neither were able to meet that target.

SpaceX has also faced its own problems, particularly with its Falcon 9 rocket that will power the Dragon into space.

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