Sunita Williams among 9 astronauts relaunching US space travel

NASA has unveiled the first astronaut crews to fly on private spaceships built by SpaceX and Boeing. "We want our country to know that we're back - that we're flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil".

The crew for Boeing's Crew Flight Test and SpaceX's Demo-2 flights will each include at least a flight commander and pilot aboard to test out the systems.

NASA assigned nine astronauts to crew the first test flight and mission of both Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon. Their mission will launch in mid-2019, if everything goes according to plan. Their mission is scheduled for April 2019.

"As a test pilot it doesn't get any better than this", Mann told the audience, when asked about being the first to fly a new spacecraft.

Astronauts are expected to make their first flight aboard Boeing's CST-100 Starliner in mid-2019, following a test flight without a crew in late 2018 or early 2019. NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins would fly Dragon's first operational mission to the space station.

The agency announced last week the first astronauts that will fly to the space station, as the first American astronauts onboard commercial spacecraft.

Indian-origin USA astronaut Sunita Williams is among the nine astronauts named by NASA who will fly the first missions into space on commercially provided rockets and capsules, starting next year.

Additional crew members will be assigned by NASA's worldwide partners at a later date. Those were Behnken, Boe, Hurley and Williams.

Today, NASA moved another inch closer.

NASA paid seed money to SpaceX and Boeing to incentivize them to develop the crew capsules, picking up where the shuttle program left off.

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.

Only seven astronauts in history have been the first to fly on a brand-new USA spacecraft. Mann will also make history as the first female astronaut on the inaugural crewed flight of a new USA spacecraft. "So, our investment in American space exploration always pays back ... multiple folds in terms of the human condition", he added.

Glover, who also joined NASA in 2013, summed it up simply.

"The station is critical for NASA to understand and overcome the challenges of long-duration spaceflight", a NASA news release said, "and necessary for a sustainable presence on the Moon and missions deeper into the solar system, including Mars".

SpaceX's Crew Dragon will launch on the company's Falcon 9 rocket.

Both vehicles are capable of reaching the ISS autonomously, and will do so and return to Earth before humans climb aboard.

Those launch targets may change. Another is to "operationalize" the crewed test flights.

Consequently, NASA can not specify when the test flights will take place or the systems will be ready for operational flights.

Just days before the Friday announcement, a key NASA safety board cautioned that it's too soon to set dates for the companies' test flights. In the meantime, NASA will still rely on Russian Federation to keep Americans flying in space. The tweet's second sentence seems to suggest that Boeing and SpaceX are paying the government to fly the missions.

The Boeing Starliner is created to fit up to seven astronauts, although the configuration could change depending on how much cargo the spacecraft would carry.

The team consists of men and women from across America.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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