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First commercial crew astronauts named for SpaceX and Boeing flights

06 August 2018

Sunita Williams, the 52-year-old Indian-origin astronaut, will fly on Starliner's first mission with Josh Cassada.

The four missions mark the first time any spacecraft will send astronauts into space from the United States since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.

Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Dragoncapsules will carry eight active NASA astronauts and one former astronaut-turned-corporate crew member to the International Space Station starting next year. SpaceX is targeting late November for its first test flight while Boeing is expected to launch in late December or January.

The Starliner crew will include former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson and Nicole Aunapu Mann, who is making her first trip to space, alongside Eric Boe, Sunita Williams and John Cassada. While a good sign for the company's Mars mission, a successful human test flight would also enable a new method of sending people to the International Space Station.

NASA today laid out a newly stretched-out schedule for flying astronauts to the International Space Station from USA soil, with SpaceX's first such flight set for no earlier than next April. Similarly, the first Starliner is being now being outfitted for launch at Kennedy Space Center, and the test flight's Atlas V Centaur upper stage-never flown in the dual-engine configuration-ships to Florida in August.

SpaceX said it would fly crews by April. They were assigned to ride on the first major flights of Boeing and SpaceX's Commercial Crew vehicles.

Flying on the regular mission will be Victor Glover, a Navy commander will make his first spaceflight after becoming an astronaut in 2013 and Michael Hopkins, a former colonel in the Air Force who became an astronaut in 2009.

More astronaut crew members will be assigned to flight missions in the future, and both mission crews expressed the importance of adding them as soon as possible in order to reduce training challenges for both the crew and training teams. While it will be Glover's first time in space, Hopkins has previously logged 166 days aboard the space station in 2014.

Once the Starliner and Dragon capsules are operational, NASA will no longer need to rely on Russia's Soyuz rocket and spacecraft to launch astronauts into low-Earth orbit.

"The first flight is something you dream about as a test pilot", said Hurley, who flew on the last shuttle mission. NASA has been paying Russian Federation for flights launched from remote Kazakhstan to the ISS ever since, banking on its Commercial Crew Program to develop a cheaper, reliable and safe American-based alternative. He served more than 24 years in the US Marine Corps as a fighter pilot and a test pilot.

Dragon will also be returning a Latching End Effector that was removed from the station's robotic arm to be refurbished on Earth and returned to the orbiting complex as a spare.

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. 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 Commercial Crew program, on the whole, has experienced numerous delays and budget shortfalls as Boeing and SpaceX work to bring crewed launches back to the U.S.

First commercial crew astronauts named for SpaceX and Boeing flights