Of the four crews named, two will launch test flight missions and two crews will launch to the International Space Station where they will live and work in space before returning to Earth in the crew vehicles. The race to get astronauts to the space station first is real; a US flag that flew on the first space shuttle flight in 1981 and the last shuttle flight in 2011, awaits the victor.
There are four flights in all-two each for SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner vehicle-scheduled to launch to the International Space Station (ISS) throughout 2019 once uncrewed test flights are complete.
"This is a big deal for our country, and we want Americans to know that we are back", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said Friday. Using American-made spacecrafts and launching from the U.S. soil is a more affordable option for the US.
The Government Accountability Office recently issued a warning to NASA that it needs to have a contingency plan in place to ensure continued access to the space station, which costs the U.S. about $3 billion annually. NASA astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Aunapu Mann, along with Boeing's company astronaut Christopher Ferguson, will fly on the Boeing Starliner test flight. He spent more than 40 days in space for NASA during three shuttle missions. Ferguson now works for Boeing and is poised to become the first-ever private company astronaut.
"We congratulate all the astronauts chosen to fly to the space station on commercially developed systems", added Caret, a two-time Wash100 recipient. Bob Behnken of the Air Force and Doug Hurley, a retired Marine Corps colonel. "I'm just grateful to be able to usher in this new era of American spaceflight". NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will fly on the SpaceX Crew Dragon test flight.
They will be accompanied by Nicole Aunapu Mann who will make her first trip to space, and the experienced Sunita Williams, former pilot of the US Navy (52 years). "Thank you very much-we take it seriously, and we won't let you down".
President Donald Trump fired off a celebratory tweet today to laud NASA's first astronaut crews to fly on private spacecraft built by Boeing and SpaceX, a message that also appeared to hail the president's proposed military Space Force.
NASA ended the shuttle program seven years ago after 135 missions as the space agency shifted its priorities to developing hardware for deep space travel. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, she said, founded the company in 2002 to build the safest and most reliable spacecraft possible.
"It's absolutely an opportunity of a lifetime", said Mann, who was selected as an astronaut in 2013.
Williams has spent 322 days aboard the International Space Station since becoming an astronaut in 1998. No female astronaut has logged more spacewalk time.
"The engineer in me always thought if I'm not flying a spaceship, I ought to be part of the team building one", Ferguson said.
Clockwise from top left: Sunita Williams, Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley and Eric Boe.
Born in Euclid (Ohio), Williams came to NASA from the Navy where she was a test pilot and rose to the rank of captain before retiring. In 2013 and 2014, Hopkins spent almost six months aboard the ISS, logging almost 13 hours of spacewalks. "This is a test pilot's dream".
The space agency has reason to be eager. Since the final shuttle mission ended, NASA has paid Russian Federation about $70 million per seat to carry astronauts to and from ISS. After that, the space agency has no guaranteed way to get its astronauts into low-Earth orbit.