The space agency announced on Friday that the nine astronauts will launch on the first crewed test flights and missions of new commercial spacecraft built and operated by The Boeing Company and SpaceX. The astronauts will be the first Americans to launch into orbit from US soil since NASA's space shuttle program shut down in 2011. "This accomplished group of American astronauts, flying on new spacecraft developed by our commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX, will launch a new era of human spaceflight", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said of the selections.
NASA made the announcement today (Aug. 3) here at the Johnson Space Center, with the agency revealing the eight agency astronauts and one Boeing astronaut before a cheering crowd of lawmakers, dignitaries and kids waving signs and American flags.
Both Boeing and SpaceX say their spacecraft, the CST-100 Starliner and the Crew Dragon, respectively, will be ready for launch sometime next year.
NASA ended the shuttle program seven years ago after 135 missions as the space agency shifted its priorities to developing hardware for deep space travel.
The astronauts - named at a buoyant event held at Johnson Space Center in Houston - will be the first to launch from USA soil since NASA retired its space shuttle programin 2011. Since then, every nation on Earth has relied on Russian Federation to get to the International Space Station. He was selected by NASA in 2009, and spent 166 days aboard the International Space Station during a mission that launched on a Russian rocket in 2013. Crew Dragon is slated to be launched in April 2019. The other commercial crew members are still with NASA. NASA also said SpaceX will launch an uncrewed flight test in November, with Boeing not expected to do that until late in 2018 or in the early part of next year.
Both Boeing and SpaceX are building spaceships to transport astronauts and restore United States access to the space station, a capacity lost when the shuttle program was retired in 2011, as planned after 30 years of operation.
The timetable for the launches was supposed to have been for test flights to take place before the end of 2018, but both companies have faced technical issues that may delay that into 2019.
After each company successfully completes its crewed test flight, NASA will begin the final process of certifying that spacecraft and systems for regular crew missions to the space station.
NASA's response to GAO's warnings about a potential gap in having USA astronauts aboard ISS is that it is "brainstorming" options. Right now, Soyuz is the only way to get any astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).
For Crew Dragon, the now confirmed crew includes Navy commander, aviator, and test pilot Victor Glover. She has spent 322 days in orbit during two missions to the space station. She's no stranger to high-speed flight, however, being an F/A-18 test pilot with more than 2,500 flight hours across over 25 aircraft.
The Starliner spacecraft is being outfitted at the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, according to NASA.
NASA says that its astronauts will be joined by other worldwide crew members, to be announced later on.
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