Boeing sends veteran space shuttle commander back into space

Crew Dragon and Starliner A Look at the Coming Astronaut Taxis

Crew Dragon and Starliner A Look at the Coming Astronaut Taxis

The first US astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station, waving after being announced, (left to right) Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, Nicole Aunapu Mann, Chris Ferguson, Eric Boe, Josh Cassada, and Suni Williamson at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas on August 3.

This is the first time since 2011 (when the USA's space shuttle retired) that astronauts will launch from the U.S. soil and from American-made spacecrafts.

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

NASA's 30-year space shuttle program came to a close in 2011 so the space agency could focus on bigger journeys, like a mission to Mars.

The move marks a significant shift in the US space program, which will now combine NASA-trained astronauts with private sector space capsules.

In an interview, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine compared the crews to the Mercury astronauts, the seven test pilots featured in "The Right Stuff", who flew at the dawn of the Space Age. "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", Mr. Bridenstine said.

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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.

SpaceX's first crew tests on the Dragon capsule will be helmed by shuttle veterans Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley.

For Boeing, who develops the Starliner capsule, two experienced pilots will be participating in the test flights: Eric Boe, 53, Christopher Ferguson, 56. NASA has worked closely with the companies throughout design, development and testing to ensure the systems meet NASA's safety and performance requirements. The test flights with crew will take place mid-2019, NASA said.

It was back in September 2014 when NASA first announced that SpaceX and Boeing would fly NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. He joined the astronaut corps in 2000 and flew aboard space shuttle Endeavour twice, for the STS-123 and STS-130 missions, during which he performed six spacewalks totaling more than 37 hours. The cargo missions started in 2012. "I'll tell you, being able to launch to the International Space Station from USA soil, I can't imagine better", Cassada said. The other commercial crew members are still with NASA. In 2013 and 2014, Hopkins spent almost six months aboard the ISS, logging almost 13 hours of spacewalks. By naming crews, NASA is signaling its belief that these astronauts will fly sometime soon. The crewed demonstration flight, with two astronauts on board, will follow in April 2019, four months later than previously announced. 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.

Victor Glover: Glover is a native of Pomona, California and he has three master's degrees.

SpaceX's crew for the long-duration mission will include naval aviator Victor Glover, also a novice to spaceflight, and shuttle veteran Michael Hopkins.

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