NASA to announce which astronauts will fly on first commercial spaceships

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NASA will announce the astronauts for the first test flights and missions of the SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft Friday.

Astronaut Eric Boy is introduced as NASA announces the crew assignments for the first flight tests, missions of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon, at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, U.S., August 3, 2018.

The astronauts named on Friday will be carried aloft aboard spacecraft developed by entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX and Boeing Co, crewing first the test flights, and then missions involving both Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon.

The announcement of crew for these first four flights is a nice morale booster for the Commercial Crew program, but there's still a long way to go.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Government Accountability Office recommended NASA pursue a backup plan for getting astronauts to the ISS, as its contract with Russian Federation to send them to the station via Soyuz launches in Kazakhstan ends at the end of 2019. All have a military background.

The SpaceX crewed test flight, now scheduled for April 2019, will be flown by NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley. With the start of four-person commercial missions, the International Space Station crew is slated to grow by one to a seven-person residency in order to maximize the science that can be conducted on board. Boeing most recently suffered a problem while testing its emergency abort system and its first test flight has been delayed until at least mid-2019.

Four of the eight astronauts will nearly certainly be Bob Behnken, Eric Boe, Doug Hurley, and Sunita "Suni" Williams. "But looks like it might".

Besides Ferguson and Mann, the initial commercial crew members are: Eric Boe, Sunita Williams and John Cassada riding on Boeing.

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"Predicting launch dates can make a liar out of every one of us", acknowledged Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX.

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner will be launched from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Dragons, meanwhile, will fly on SpaceX's own Falcon 9 rockets. American astronauts will be flying American built rockets into space from American soil.

A white SpaceX launch suit and a blue Boeing launch suit stood on display behind the astronauts on stage.

The first flight is expected sometime next year.

NASA awaits the completion of both companies' test flights before certifying either safe for use to return astronauts on low-Earth-orbit missions. SpaceX's manned test flight will feature two NASA astronauts.

It may also include Russia, as NASA officials have discussed in the past flying Russian cosmonauts on commercial crew vehicles, possibly in exchange for seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

"This is truly an exciting time for human spaceflight in our nation, and believe me, it's only going to get better as we charge off into the future", said Bob Cabana, a former shuttle commander who now heads Kennedy Space Center.

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