The first astronauts have been selected for a ride on commercial rockets

NASA announces names of astronauts who will crew first spacecraft launched from U.S. soil since 2011

NASA announces names of astronauts who will crew first spacecraft launched from U.S. soil since 2011

The first US astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station, waving after being announced, (left to right) Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, Nicole Aunapu Mann, Chris Ferguson, Eric Boe, Josh Cassada, and Suni Williamson at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas on August 3.

"Today, our country's dreams of greater achievements in space are within our grasp", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said.

Both Boeing and SpaceX say their spacecraft, the CST-100 Starliner and the Crew Dragon, respectively, will be ready for launch sometime next year. Among them are the commander and pilot of the final shuttle mission in 2011. "Our commitment has always been to provide NASA and those crews the highest level of mission assurance", he said in the statement.

Leading up to the ceremony at the Johnson Space Center here, Bridenstine said it was a historic moment for the agency: "We are going to launch American astronauts from American soil". "I'll tell you, being able to launch to the International Space Station from US soil, I can't imagine better", Cassada said. Many view this as the first step towards taking more people into space.

Lawmakers in Congress, however, insisted that NASA still needed to develop its own rocket and space capsule, called the Space Launch System.

One of those is SpaceX, Elon Musk's company, which will launch Crew Dragon, while the other is Boeing's Starliner project.

The first full mission of Boeing's Starliner, which will fly to the ISS for a long-duration stay, will take ISS veteran Suni Williams and spaceflight newcomer Josh Cassada. He has a doctorate in engineering and is a flight test engineer and colonel in the Air Force.

"It's absolutely an opportunity of a lifetime", said Mann, who was selected as an astronaut in 2013. Williams has already spent more than 300 days in space.

Now, SpaceX will launch its uncrewed test flight in November 2018, with the first crewed flight next spring. He's previously spent more than 40 days in space for NASA during three shuttle missions, but he retired from the federal organization and joined Boeing in 2011.

NASA seems confident these dates will hold, and that the commercial crew program is finally on the home stretch. Announced today is the initial crew manifest for both the test flight and the first mission each company will undertake.

"NASA is empowering private industry to gain solid footing in low-Earth orbit, which will allow NASA to explore new frontiers in deep space", said Jon Cowart, acting deputy manager for the Commercial Crew Program's Mission Management and Integration office at the Kennedy Space Center.

When the Starliner approaches the International Space Station, the docking will be fully autonomous as the spacecraft manoeuvres toward an adapted docking port for commercial spacecraft. But it had been working to resolve an issue with its second stage that caused one of its Falcon 9 rockets to explode while it was being fueled ahead of an engine test.

Boeing is now working through technical issues with its abort and parachute systems.

The goal now is to complete the certification for sending humans to space in 2019.

The two pairs of NASA crewmates will fly to the station with Russian cosmonauts and global astronauts to be announced at a later date.

Since 2010, that program has inched along, moving ever-closer to crewed and uncrewed test flights.

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