NASA Taps Astronauts for Commercial Flights

NASA Taps Astronauts for Commercial Flights

The move marks a significant shift in the US space program, which will now combine NASA-trained astronauts with private sector space capsules.

"Today, our country's dreams of greater achievements in space are within our grasp", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

NASA named the crews for the first four flights planned with commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX at a Friday news conference at Johnson Space Center in Houston. NASA had originally expected the companies to have their spacecraft ready for missions to the International Space Station by the end of past year, but neither were able to meet that target.

Bridenstine also introduced the crews of the first missions to the International Space Station by each new craft, which will follow the test flights. Since then, every nation on Earth has relied on Russian Federation to get to the International Space Station. Since her selection as an astronaut in 1998, she has spent 322 days aboard the International Space Station for Expeditions 14/15 and Expeditions 32/33, commanded the space station and performed seven spacewalks. Space X, the private space company founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk put out Dragon as the first private aircraft to berth with the ISS.

Astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann, whose grandfather was Estonian, is due to take her first space flight onboard the Boeing Starliner in 2019. The agency landed on the Commercial Crew program, which would see Boeing and SpaceX build new vehicles that could deliver astronauts to the space station.

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Mr. Behnken, Mr. Hurley, Mr. Boe and Ms. Mann are NASA's first astronauts to be named to the test flights of new USA spacecraft since the March 1978 announcement of the space shuttle's first orbital flight test crews. The first Crew Dragon post-certification mission will be flown by Victor Glover, another rookie astronaut selected in 2013, and Mike Hopkins, who spent 166 days on one station mission. He began his career at NASA in 2000 and piloted two space shuttle missions, one on Endeavor in 2009 and the final shuttle mission on Atlantis in 2011. "Falcon 9's first and second stages for the Demo-1 mission are targeted to ship from SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, California to the company's rocket testing facility in McGregor, Texas for additional testing in August", NASA said. "We congratulate all the astronauts chosen to fly to the space station on commercially developed systems".

This handout photograph obtained August 3, 2018 courtesy of NASA shows the first United States astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft.

For SpaceX, a demonstration flight with no passengers is set for November 2018, and the first manned flight set for April 2019. He's spent almost 29 days in space. Since then, NASA has been dependent on Russia's Soyuz rockets and spacecraft, paying upward of $70 million per seat to fly Americans to and from the ISS.

NASA has been collaborating with commercial space companies for years, with the goal of having the private sector take over "routine" trips to the space station and low Earth orbit.

"It's absolutely the opportunity of a lifetime", Mann, a Marine Corps lieutenant who joined NASA in 2013, said during the announcement.

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