NASA announces astronauts for first Commercial Crew missions

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A NASA astronaut from Needham will be one of the first crew members to ever fly a commercial space craft to the International Space Station.

On the test flight for the Starliner will be: Eric Boe, a former space shuttle pilot who retired from the Air Force; Christopher Ferguson, a Boeing astronaut who left NASA in 2011; and Lt. Col. Nicole Mann of the Marine Corps.

Assignments for the crew flight tests and the first post-certification missions will be revealed during an event that kicks off at 11 a.m. EDT at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The Boeing's first mission will be flown by Josh Cassada and Sunita Williams, and the SpaceX mission by Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins will fly aboard the Crew Dragon first mission.

Even before the end of the shuttle program, NASA got to work to find a replacement.

The Boeing and SpaceX crewed test missions are arguably the most anticipated spaceship test flights this century.

Astronauts Sunita Williams, Eric Boe, Robert Behnken, and Doug Hurley were previously named for commercial spaceflight by the agency in 2015. "So there's a lot to be done, and we're just the beginning". "After all these years it hasn't gone away".

Boeing's and SpaceX's commercial spacecraft may also open the space station - and more broadly, Earth orbit - to more privately-funded visitors and spaceflight participants from countries that do not have their own domestic crewed spacecraft and rockets.

The missions are meant to maximize the time the astronauts can dedicate to research in space, getting humanity further closer to the final frontier. The contrast was on display Friday. Boeing received a $4.2-billion contract, and SpaceX's was for $2.6 billion. "That's a big deal".

Prior to their maiden crewed missions, both Boeing and SpaceX plan uncrewed test flights in late 2018 or early 2019.

Taking the stage Friday before a huge American flag, Gwynne Shotwell, the president of SpaceX, told the crews: "What a sacred honor this was to be part of this program and to fly you".

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On the website you can also find photos taken by astronauts during the mission. "We're not going to let you down".

"I'm sure there's at least one Russian-language instructor out there who thinks that having me fly in a USA vehicle is not a awful idea", quipped Cassada.

NASA didn't offer specific reasons for the delays, but said the decision to push back the timeline was influenced by their commitment to safety.

"Thanks to the American public for your patience [and] your dedication for allowing us to finish the job", said Shotwell. A recent abort test by Boeing resulted in leaking engine fuel.

Boeing has since identified the problem, he said, and is working to fix it.

As for being the only non-NASA guy on board, Ferguson explained later during a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" program that Boeing always uses company test pilots for first flights "and the Starliner is no exception".

"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.

NASA has had to partner with Russian Federation to launch astronauts to the International Space Station since the space shuttle program ended.

In an interview, Sen. And that was really unfortunate.

Boeing and SpaceX, though, seem keenly aware of the white-hot spotlight on the program and on America's future in low-Earth orbit.