The three pioneers will help restore American access to space from US soil, a capability that ended when the shuttle was retired seven years ago.
"This is a big deal for our country and we want America to know that we are back, that we are flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil", said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine at a ceremony to announce the crew members in Houston, Texas. Since then, the space agency has turned to private space firms, like SpaceX, to oversee cargo runs to the ISS, while sending United States astronauts there on Russian rockets.
The astronauts assignments will be for both the test flights of Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon, which won't dock with the ISS, as well as the first post-certification missions for both private companies, which will head to the space station.
On the test flight for the Starliner will be: Eric Boe, a former space shuttle pilot who retired from the Air Force; Christopher Ferguson, a Boeing astronaut who left NASA in 2011; and Lt. Col. Nicole Mann of the Marine Corps. Their mission will launch in mid-2019, if everything goes according to plan.
Meanwhile, Boeing's first manned spaceflight of the Starliner vehicle is now scheduled for mid-2019, the Inquisitr reported yesterday.
The two pairs of NASA crewmates will fly to the station with Russian cosmonauts and worldwide astronauts to be announced at a later date.
"As a test pilot, it doesn't get any better than this", said Mann, a Naval aviator. The company's first mission, should the test be successful, will be flown by Victor Glover, at his first flight to space, and ISS veteran Michael Hopkins.
It's been a long trip for these astronauts.
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In 2014, Boeing and SpaceX were awarded a combined $6.8 billion in contracts from NASA to develop spacecraft capable of flying crews to the space station.
Crewed test flights of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon are targeted to launch in 2019. Those were Behnken, Boe, Hurley and Williams. As per NASA, it is anticipated that it will need two days to move the return capsule to the port and take away the returned materials for the operations that are next in line. The crews will be split between two of the commercial projects NASA is counting on to make space travel more accessible and, vitally, more affordable. He flew on two flights of the space shuttle including the final mission, Atlantis's STS-135.
"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 USA spacecraft. It now looks like SpaceX will be the first to launch humans on its crew Dragon spacecraft, set for April 2019.
SpaceX is gearing up to send humans into space for the first time.
Glover, who also joined NASA in 2013, summed it up simply.
SpaceX has also faced its own problems, particularly with its Falcon 9 rocket that will power the Dragon into space. SpaceX hopes to fly that test by this November, with Boeing targeting late 2019 or early 2020.
Those launch targets may change.
Astronaut Doug Hurley, who will be on the Space X test flight, hinted at the delays when he noted at Friday's Johnson Space Center announcement: "The first flight is something you dream about as a test pilot, and you don't think it's ever going to happen to you". Another is to "operationalize" the crewed test flights.