NASA Announces Crew For First Commercial Space Flights

The first USA 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.

NASA "has contracted six missions, with as many as four astronauts per mission, for each company", the agency said.

NASA officials have said it is critical to understanding the challenges of long-duration spaceflight and necessary for a sustainable presence on the Moon and for deep-space missions, including to Mars.

Crew Dragon, designed and built by Elon Musk's SpaceX, and the CST-100 Starliner, made by Boeing, are the two spacecraft being developed for NASA as part of its Commercial Crew Program.

Joining Ferguson on the maiden flight will be Eric Boe, a former shuttle pilot, and Nicole Aunapu Mann, who will make her first trip into space. "Today's announcement advances our great American vision and strengthens the nation's leadership in space". NASA has worked closely with the companies throughout design, development and testing to ensure the systems meet NASA's safety and performance requirements. 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.

Additional crew members will be assigned by NASA's global partners at a later date.

On board Starliner's first mission will be NASA veteran Sunita Williams, a retired Navy captain and experienced space shuttle astronaut, and Josh Cassada, a Navy pilot making his first flight to space.

When you think about who's in charge of cutting-edge spaceflight in 2018, SpaceX is probably the first name that comes to mind. Williams has already spent more than 300 days in space.

NASA is expected to announce the crew assignments for the first missions for Boeing and SpaceX this morning, according to a release from the agency. He flew aboard three shuttle missions, including the program's final mission in 2011.

SpaceX's four-member crew consists of Air Force flight test engineer Bob Behnken and retired Marine Corps test pilot Doug Hurley, tasked with the Dragon's demo flight scheduled for April 2019; Dragon's first mission will be flown by Navy test pilot Victor Glover and the Air Force's Mike Hopkins. What is not known is who gets to fly on which company's spacecraft, and on which flight they get to launch.

After announcing the crews, Bridenstine engaged in a largely lighthearted question-and-answer session with the selected astronauts, who expressed their delight in being selected and anticipation in flying on these next-generation vehicles.

SpaceX and Boeing are planning a test flight of their capsules by the end of this year or early 2019. SpaceX's manned test flight will feature two NASA astronauts.

Both Boeing and SpaceX are slightly behind schedule when it comes to their crew vehicles.

The contracts for travel to the International Space Station were awarded in 2014.