NASA unveiled the astronauts who will ride the first commercial Boeing and SpaceX capsules into orbit next year and bring human launches back to the U.S. (Aug. 3)
NASA on Friday named the astronaut test pilots who will be the first to fly SpaceX and Boeing capsules launched from Florida to the International Space Station, within a year or less, according to updated schedules.
The test flights will end a more than a seven-year gap since astronauts last launched from the U.S., aboard the space shuttle Atlantis in July 2011. The nation since then has relied upon Russia to get crews to and from orbit.
“This is a big deal for our country,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in front of an enormous U.S. flag at Johnson Space Center in Houston during a ceremony punctuated by raucous cheers. “We want our country to know that we’re back – that we’re flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil.”
The latest schedules show SpaceX appearing to be slightly ahead in the competition to reach the International Space Station first, with plans to fly a two-person crew – NASA’s Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley – in a Crew Dragon atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center in April 2019.
Boeing aims to launch a CST-100 Starliner capsule on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in mid-2019, carrying a three-person crew: NASA’s Eric Boe and Nicole Mann and Boeing’s own Chris Ferguson.
Each test flight crew includes one crew member from the final shuttle mission, which Ferguson led and Hurley piloted.
Those tests, expected to last between two weeks and a month, will be preceded by orbital shakedown cruises without people on board. SpaceX hopes to fly that test by this November, with Boeing targeting late 2019 or early 2020.
After the crewed test flights, NASA plans to certify the Crew Dragon and Starliner as safe for operational missions carrying four-person crews by late 2019 or early 2020.
Bridenstine on Friday also announced the two NASA crew members who will fly each capsule’s first operational mission, joined by pairs of international astronauts to be named later.
Rookie John Cassada will join veteran Sunita Williams aboard the Starliner, while first-time flier Victor Glover will join veteran Mike Hopkins on the Dragon.
As their names were announced, the crew members walked onto a stage in blue flight suits, giving waves, thumbs up and fist pumps to the cheering crowd.
“It’s absolutely an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Mann, who will be the first woman to fly on the first flight of a new U.S. spacecraft. “It’s going to be a proud moment for America.”
Follow James Dean on Twitter: @flatoday_jdean
See a longer edit of NASA’s announcement:
NASA announces the astronauts selected to fly on Boeing and SpaceX spacecraft at Johnson Space Center in Houston on Friday, Aug. 3, 2018.
Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2naEjzk