NASA names astronauts for first commercial space flights

Boeing Starliner

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"We're flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during the presentation ceremony at the Johnson Space Center of Houston.

NASA on Friday named four crews of astronauts that it says will begin "a new era in American spaceflight" by flying the first commercial spaceships, built by Boeing and SpaceX, in a series of test launches.

"It will be thrilling to see our astronauts lift off from American soil, and we can't wait to see them aboard the International Space Station", Mr. Geyer said. He will be joined by Eric Boe, who has experience on both the Endeavour and Space Shuttle Discovery (which he piloted in its final mission in February 2011), and Nicole Aunapu Mann, an experienced test pilot and lieutenant colonel in the Marines. Interestingly, Ferguson will be the first former NASA astronaut to return to orbit as a company's crew member.

On July 8, 2011, the space shuttle Atlantis launched from Kennedy Space Center, marking the last time a USA astronaut was launched into space from American soil.

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.

NASA's commercial crew program is part of the greater effort to commercialize the activities in low Earth orbit, utilizing the International Space Station (ISS), where NASA astronauts have been conducting science and research along with international space agency partners.

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Eric Boe was a NASA astronaut and space shuttle pilot.

"It is going to be a proud moment for America", Mann said.

Top row, left to right: NASA Astronauts Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins; bottom row, left to right: NASA Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

The news, announced on NASA's Commercial Crew program blog, doesn't come as a surprise.

Since the shuttle was retired seven years ago, USA astronauts have had to fly on Russian rockets from a remote launch site in Kazakhstan. NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins would fly Dragon's first operational mission to the space station.

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

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This expedition may just act as a much needed catalyst as this trip may also open the space station- and more broadly the orbit of the earth for more privately-funded visitors and spaceflight participants from countries that are yet to have their own domesticated crewed spacecraft and rockets.

After the ending of space shuttle program in 2011, NASA astronauts were travelling to the ISS aboard Russia's Soyuz spacecraft.

On Friday, NASA, along with commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX, named the first commercial crew astronauts selected to fly aboard commercial spacecraft.

Since 2010, that program has inched along, moving ever-closer to crewed and uncrewed test flights.

If those flights are successful, the companies will be certified by NASA for crew rotation missions.

According to the NASA website, both the Boeing test flight and SpaceX test flight are expected to take place in 2019. The astronauts will travel in the new Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon. "I'll tell you, being able to launch to the International Space Station from USA soil, I can't imagine better", Cassada said.

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The US space agency, meanwhile, is working on building rockets and spacecraft that could allow humans to return to the Moon in the coming decade.

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