NASA announces crew who will fly first commercial rockets into space

Gwen Vasquez
August 4, 2018

Williams is among a group of nine people who will begin riding the first commercial space capsules into orbit next year, bringing astronaut launches back to the United States for the first time since the space shuttle retired in 2011.

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.

"This is a big deal for our country, and we want America to know we're back".

The five astronauts assigned to the first flights gathered Friday at Johnson Space Center in Houston for the announcement.

The crew of the Boeing Starliner's first test flight will be NASA astronaut Eric Boe, a retired Air Force colonel who flew on two space shuttle missions; Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson, a former Navy captain and NASA astronaut who flew three shuttle missions, including the final mission in 2011; and NASA astronaut Nicole Mann who will make her first spaceflight after a career as a Marine corps lieutenant colonel, fighter pilot and test pilot.

Bridenstine also introduced the crews of the first missions to the International Space Station by each new craft, which will follow the test flights.

Williams has already taken two trips to the space station, commanded it, and racked up 322 days in space, second on the all-time list for female astronauts. He is the last person to serve as a commander for the NASA space shuttle program.

The crew missions have been delayed repeatedly because of the technical challenges and difficulties of making spacecraft safe for humans. They're both the result of NASA's Commercial Crew Program: a almost 10-year-long, $8-billion effort to maintain access to orbit for U.S. astronauts.

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Behnken, Boe, Hurley and Williams were named in 2015 as Nasa's "commercial crew cadre" and have been working with Boeing and SpaceX on the development of the spacecraft and the simulators that will be used to train astronauts to fly.

For SpaceX, a demonstration flight with no passengers is set for November 2018, and the first manned flight set for April 2019. American astronauts have still traveled to space, but they've used Russia's Soyuz spacecraft at a cost of about $80 million per seat.

On the SpaceX vessel will be astronauts Doug Hurley, Victor Glover, Robert Behnken and Michael Hopkins. He flew on Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2008 with fellow Georgia Tech graduates Sandy Magnus and Shane Kimbrough.

It's been a long journey for NASA and its commercial partners to get both crew capsules up and running.

This is an endeavor that will return astronaut launches to US soil for the first time since the space shuttle's retirement in 2011.

The unpiloted supply ship launched from Cape Canaveral on June 29 aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, and it reached the space station July 2. He has spent 166 days on the International Space Station for Expeditions 37/38, and conducted two spacewalks.

A commercial Dragon cargo craft launched June 29 departed the International Space Station and returned to Earth on Friday with almost two tons of cargo and research samples. In a statement, the agency said that additional crew members for those first post-certification missions "will be assigned by NASA's worldwide partners at a later date".

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