Blend of novices, veterans to fly on first private United States spaceships

  • Blend of novices, veterans to fly on first private United States spaceships

Blend of novices, veterans to fly on first private United States spaceships

"We're flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during the presentation ceremony at the Johnson Space Center of Houston.

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.

Mr. Behnken, Mr. Hurley, Mr. Boe and Ms. Mann are NASA's first astronauts to be named to the test flights of new USA spacecraft since the March 1978 announcement of the space shuttle's first orbital flight test crews.

"Safely and reliably flying commercial crew missions for NASA remains the highest priority for SpaceX", Benji Reed, SpaceX's director of crew mission management, said in a statement.

The trio are tasked with docking and undocking autonomously to the International Space Station. The group includes former space shuttle flyers, ex-military test pilots, rookies, and - critically - a cadre of four astronauts who've already been testing and providing feedback on the new commercial ships for years. And Nasa also named the astronauts for those flights as well.

"For the first time since 2011, we are on the brink of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil". In fact, NASA is paying Boeing and SpaceX billions to fly Americans to and from the International Space Station.

"The 7,000 women and men of SpaceX understand what a sacred honour this was, for us to be part of this program, and for us to fly you", said Gwynne Shotwell, the chief operating officer of SpaceX, at the Friday press conference.

Top row, left to right: NASA Astronauts Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins; bottom row, left to right: NASA Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

"The goal is to have safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and foster commercial access to other potential low-Earth orbit destinations", NASA said. Nicole Aunapu Mann will be making her first flight; she completed her astronaut training in 2015.

With these launches the United States will recover its prominence in the space race after seven years of depending on Russian infrastructure to send its astronauts into space.

An unmanned Boeing flight test is scheduled for later this year, while the first flight with the crew is expected to take place in mid-2019, NASA said.

Once Crew Dragon and Starliner are certified by NASA for regular use, they will be used for operational ISS flights around 2020.

Astronaut Doug Hurley, who will be on the Space X test flight, hinted at the delays when he noted at Friday's Johnson Space Center announcement: "The first flight is something you dream about as a test pilot, and you don't think it's ever going to happen to you".

Both Boeing and SpaceX are also working with Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas company that plans to launch private space stations into orbit, to be leased to nations or companies. Mr. Ferguson will become the first former NASA astronaut to return to orbit as a company's crew member when he flies. John Mulholland, vice president and program manager for Boeing's Commercial Crew effort, explained that the earliest the company can "confidently" do a manned flight test will be in mid-2019. Dragons, meanwhile, will fly on SpaceX's own Falcon 9 rockets.