The commercial flights will mark the return of crew launches to the U.S., which has not seen humans lift off for space since the end of the iconic spaceshuttle program seven years ago.
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.
The trio are tasked with docking and undocking autonomously to the International Space Station. Boe piloted space shuttle Endeavour and Discovery on its final flight, Ferguson piloted and commanded Atlantis and commanded Endeavour, Hurley piloted Endeavor and Atlantis, and Behnken flew aboard space shuttle Endeavour twice.
Suni Williams: Williams was chosen as an astronaut in 1998 after a career in the Navy. "We're flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil".
Robotic flight controllers released the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft from the International Space Station's robotic arm at 12:38 p.m. EDT, and Expedition 56 Serena Auñon-Chancellor of NASA is monitoring its departure. "Both partners said they really wanted to have an uncrewed flight test to make sure the integrated rockets, spacecraft and re-entry systems are all working as created to be able to ensure the integrated system is functioning". Other astronauts that will join are Robert Behnken, 48, and Douglas Hurley, 51, as SpaceX's first Dragon crew. But NASA warns that these dates are just targets, and both commercial providers have "more work ahead of them" before they can launch to the ISS.
The new commercial capsules will replace NASA's space shuttle program, which last flew in 2011.
The 212-foot-tall core stage, referred to as the "backbone" of the rocket by NASA, will contain the SLS rocket's four RS-25 rocket engines, propellant tanks, flight computers and much more.
The two pairs of NASA crewmates will fly to the station with Russian cosmonauts and worldwide astronauts to be announced at a later date.
52-year-old Williams will be accompanied by Josh Cassada, 45, on NASA's first contracted Starliner mission.
This mission will mark SpaceX's first operational crew mission under our current Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract with NASA.
As for the CST-100 Starliner, the uncrewed test flight will happen at the end of this year, or early 2019, so this would mean that the manned test flight will be in mid-2019.
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. "I'll tell you, being able to launch to the International Space Station from US soil, I can't imagine better", Cassada said.
Behnken and Hurley, veterans of two spaceflights each, will lift off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A. Boeing said earlier this week it would carry out a test flight of the Starliner vehicle without humans later this year or in early 2019, after it suffered an issue with the capsule's launch abort system during a test in New Mexico in June, according to SpaceNews.
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