NASA names astronauts for Boeing, SpaceX flights

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 USA space agency said.

NASA has announced the names of the astronauts who will be the first people in history to ride to orbit in private space taxis next year, if all goes as planned.

Boeing's first Starliner crew will include a former NASA astronaut who commanded the last shuttle flight in 2011, Chris Ferguson, who's now a Boeing employee.

Robert Behnken will be one of two test pilots for the SpaceX Crew Dragon. However, a NASA spokesman said that does not guarantee those four astronauts will be assigned to an actual mission.

NASA's Commercial Crew Program is facilitating the development of a USA 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. He flew on two flights of the space shuttle including the final mission, Atlantis's STS-135.

The next class of NASA astronauts was announced Friday, and they will be the first to man space vehicles owned by commercial companies.

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The space station's operational lifespan has already been extended to reach 2025, though the White House recently began discussing the idea of turning the aging station over to commercial investors who might be interested in continuing the ISS's run of maintaining a continuously manned presence in space for almost two decades. 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.

"Rockets are fun. I'll be ready, I can't wait", Williams said in an interview posted Friday on the International Space Station Facebook page.

These three astronauts are responsible for Boeing's Starliner spacecraft. But while the newly announced crews are excited to once again launch from Florida instead of Kazakhstan, they aren't very nostalgic for the hardware of the shuttles themselves.

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

"It's absolutely an opportunity of a lifetime", said Mann, who was selected as an astronaut in 2013. The first tests flights are expected to take place within the next few months, into early next year. While she was there in 2007, she completed the Boston Marathon - on a treadmill - in 4 hours 24 minutes, marking the first time an entrant had finished the race from orbit. The uncrewed test is planned for November; the test flight with crew aboard is set for April 2019. "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", explained NASA in the statement. 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. "This accomplished group of American astronauts, flying on new spacecraft developed by our commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX, will launch a new era of human spaceflight".

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner will be launched from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. She has spent a grand total of 322 days in space including a stint commanding the space station and performing seven spacewalks.

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