NASA Taps Astronauts for Commercial Flights

A support structure for Boeing's Starliner spacecraft the first flight of which has been postponed to 2019 is seen being installed in Cape Canaveral Florida in 2016

A support structure for Boeing's Starliner spacecraft the first flight of which has been postponed to 2019 is seen being installed in Cape Canaveral Florida in 2016

Nine astronauts were named to ride the SpaceX Dragon and Boeing Starliner capsules - five on the first crew flights and four on the second round of missions to the International Space Station.

If those missions go well, astronauts Mike Hopkins and Victor Glover will fly the first operational Crew Dragon flight to the International Space Station, while astronauts Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada will fly the first operational CST-100 Starliner mission. The endeavour will return astronaut launches to U.S. soil for the first time since the country retired its aging space shuttles in 2011.

In an interview, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine compared the crews to the Mercury astronauts, the seven test pilots featured in "The Right Stuff", who flew at the dawn of the Space Age.

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 station, the orbiting laboratory.

Boeing has leased two of NASA's old space shuttle hangars at KSC, known as Orbiter Processing Facilities, to build its Starliners and house two small robotic X-37B space planes it built for the Air Force.

SpaceX's first crew tests will be manned by shuttle veterans Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley. Bob Behnken of the Air Force and Doug Hurley, a retired Marine Corps colonel.

While NASA didn't require uncrewed flight tests, both companies will be shooting them off to the ISS anyway, because you can never be too positive things won't glitch once you're 1,200 miles beyond Earth's atmosphere.

The Crew Dragon capsule is scheduled to launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida in late 2019.

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Countries have been launching their astronauts from Russia for a long while now, as the Russian Soyuz is currently the only spacecraft that can send astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Dr Deepak Pandya, her father, said that she would start training for the 2019-20 mission. "I'll tell you, being able to launch to the International Space Station from US soil, I can't imagine better", Cassada said. A NASA press release says more crew members may be added to those flights later. He is a Navy commander and test pilot with more than 3,500 flight hours in more than 40 aircraft. Boeing said only that it would fly NASA's astronauts by the middle of next year.

SpaceX is shooting for a test flight without passengers in November and a crew flight in April.

Williams has spent 322 days aboard the International Space Station since becoming an astronaut in 1998.

Both Boeing and SpaceX are also working with Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas company that plans to launch private space stations into orbit, to be leased to nations or companies.

Victor Glover: Glover is a native of Pomona, California and he has three master's degrees. If any further delays creep up, NASA's astronauts may be temporarily stranded on Earth.

Michael Hopkins was born in Lebanon, Missouri, and grew up on a farm near Richland, Missouri.

"With the additional access to space, new industries will develop in the years ahead at an increasing rate", said Lissy Donald, managing director of Compass International - a UAE-based firm that is the regional partner of Nasa and the United States and Space Rocket Centre.

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