NASA names astronauts for first commercial space flights

NASA on Friday is scheduled to announce the crews of the first flights to fly from United States soil since the space shuttle retired in 2011, an elite group of astronauts that the agency hopes will help open a new era of space travel.

President Donald Trump fired off a celebratory tweet today to laud NASA's first astronaut crews to fly on private spacecraft built by Boeing and SpaceX, a message that also appeared to hail the president's proposed military Space Force. "Today's announcement advances our great American vision and strengthens the nation's leadership in space".

The astronauts assignments will be for both the test flights of Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon, which won't dock with the ISS, as well as the first post-certification missions for both private companies, which will head to the space station. A NASA press release says more crew members may be added to those flights later.

"For the first time since 2011, we are on the brink of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Friday, standing in front of a giant American flag at Johnson Space Center in Houston. The race to get astronauts to the space station first is real; a US flag that flew on the first space shuttle flight in 1981 and the last shuttle flight in 2011, awaits the victor.

Several of the selected astronauts are shuttle program veterans. "To meet NASA's requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station".

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

Josh Cassada grew up in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. When he was in high school, Ferguson became "intrigued" with joining the Navy and flying jets, he said. This will be his first spaceflight.




For Crew Dragon, the now confirmed crew includes Navy commander, aviator, and test pilot Victor Glover. Since her selection as an astronaut in 1998, she has spent 322 days aboard the International Space Station for Expeditions 14/15 and Expeditions 32/33, commanded the space station and performed seven spacewalks.

The demonstration flights by Boeing and SpaceX will spend a short period in orbit before coming straight back to Earth.

Sunita Williams was born in Euclid, Ohio, but considers Needham, Massachusetts, her hometown. While in the Air Force, he flew in 55 combat missions over Iraq.

He'll be joined by Christoner Ferguson, a retired Navy captain.

Mike Hopkins: Hopkins was raised on a farm near Richland, Missouri, and he has a master's in aerospace engineering. He's spent almost 29 days in space. He is an Air Force colonel.

NASA seems confident these dates will hold, and that the commercial crew program is finally on the home stretch.

It's been a long journey for NASA and its commercial partners to get both crew capsules up and running. "I look forward, sir, to getting you down there at some point out in Hawthorne [SpaceX's California headquarters] and maybe you can sit next to us in the cockpit and go through flying the iPhone to dock to space station".

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