NASA set to announce astronauts for SpaceX, Boeing missions

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VICE News spoke with Dennis Stone, one of the founding members of NASA's commercial investment program, to hear the story behind the agency's success in backing private spaceflight.

NASA on Friday announced the crews of the first flights from USA soil since the space shuttle retired in 2011, an elite group of astronauts that the agency hopes will help open a new era of space travel. The first tests flights are expected to take place within the next few months, into early next year.

Eric Boe: Like many astronauts, Boe became an astronaut after a stint as an Air Force fighter pilot.

NASA paid seed money to SpaceX and Boeing to incentivize them to develop the crew capsules, picking up where the shuttle program left off. Boeing said it would be ready sometime in the middle of 2019. "Each test flight will provide data on the performance of the rockets, spacecraft, ground systems, and operations to ensure the systems are safe to fly astronauts", explained NASA in the statement.

"Space has transformed the American way of life", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein said at the event.

The first crewed test flight of SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule will include NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. Nicole Aunapu Mann will be making her first flight; she completed her astronaut training in 2015. Ferguson, the Boeing astronaut, flew three shuttle missions, and has logged more than 40 days in space.

In 2019, SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner are both scheduled to blast off on test flights with NASA astronauts on board. Since the last shuttle flight, NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to carry its astronauts to the International Space Station.

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, 48, and Douglas Hurley, 51, will fly together as SpaceX's first Dragon crew.

The announcement happened Friday morning at the Johnson Space Center. Initially, all four crew members trained on both vehicles, but with flights just a year away, NASA is now assigning the crew to specific missions. Since then, the space agency has turned to private space firms, like SpaceX, to oversee cargo runs to the ISS, while sending U.S. astronauts there on Russian rockets.

In addition to naming the crews of the test flights, NASA also announced the four astronauts who will fly aboard the first operational Starliner and Dragon missions to the space station.

On Boeing's first post-certification mission, NASA astronaut Suni Williams, who has flown on the space station two times already, will fly to the outpost again with first-time space flier Josh Cassada.

Victor Glover: Glover was selected as an astronaut in 2013 after a career in the Navy as a test pilot. SpaceX's manned test flight will feature two NASA astronauts.

NASA's continuous presence on the space station for nearly 18 years has enabled technology demonstrations and research in biology and biotechnology, Earth and space science, human health, physical sciences.

Victor Glover, 42, and Michael Hopkins, 49, will fly on the first operational mission of SpaceX's crewed Dragon. Mr. Hopkins logged 166 days aboard the space station in 2014.

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