NASA named nine astronauts who will be on the first space flights launched from US soil since the shuttle program ended in 2011.
The astronauts will fly on two new spacecraft, the Starliner and Crew Dragon, which are being developed by Boeing and Elon Musk's SpaceX, respectively, as part of NASA's commercial crew program. Since the last shuttle flight, NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to carry its astronauts to the International Space Station.
On Friday, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine introduced the nine astronauts, who will fly on the first four crewed missions using the new craft. He made the introductions in a crowded auditorium at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
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.
"As a test pilot it doesn't get any better than this," Mann told the audience, when asked about being the first to fly a new spacecraft.
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will crew the SpaceX Crew Dragon test flight. Behnken is a retired Air Force pilot with two shuttle flights and six space walks under his belt. Hurley is a retired Marine Corps colonel and test pilot who has also piloted space shuttles Endeavor and Atlantis.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company is targeting November for an unmanned test launch of the Crew Dragon atop a Falcon 9 rocket. NASA plans the first crewed test for April 2019. Boeing is set to perform an uncrewed test of Starliner using a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket a few months after SpaceX, with a first flight with human crew expected for the middle of next year.
Bridenstine also introduced the crews of the first missions to the International Space Station by each new craft, which will follow the test flights.
The first Boeing Starliner mission to the ISS will be crewed by John Cassada, a NASA astronaut, physicist and Navy test pilot. He will be joined by veteran astronaut Suni Williams, who has spent more than 50 hours on spacewalks and ran the first marathon in space on board the ISS in 2007.
"I'm just really excited we're going to be able to take these spacecraft and show them off to our international partners," Williams told the crowd.
The first SpaceX Crew Dragon flight to the space station will include NASA astronaut and Navy test pilot Victor Glover, who has logged more than 3,000 hours flying 40 different aircraft and NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, who has logged 166 days in space so far.
All of the nine astronauts are now taking questions in a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" session that started shortly after the announcement.
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