NASA announced on Friday the astronauts who will crew the Boeing and SpaceX spacecraft, the first time Americans will return to space in hopes of reaching the International Space Station from Florida's Space Coast since 2011. The endeavour will return astronaut launches to U.S. soil for the first time since the country retired its aging space shuttles in 2011.
"This is important for our country, we want America to know that we are back, that we are flying American astronauts into U.S. capsules from American soil", said Jim Bridenstine, the agency's administrator.
"To work and live in space is just a humbling and fantastic blessing in and of itself, and now to have the opportunity to work with these great companies on something that is so important to our nation and to NASA", Glover said. NASA's last space shuttle mission, the STS-135 flight coincidently commanded by Boeing's Ferguson, flew in July 2011. But the agency is confident that the Boeing and SpaceX missions are moving toward completion - a sentiment underscored by today's announcement.
"It will be thrilling to see our astronauts lift off from American soil, and we can't wait to see them aboard the ISS", he added.
As for the SpaceX Crew Dragon test flight, that will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
SpaceX's first test launch will ferry NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken into space. Ferguson now works for Boeing and is poised to become the first-ever private company astronaut. Josh Cassada and Suni Williams will be the second crew for the Starliner and Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins will be the second crew for the Dragon.
Both Boeing and SpaceX are building spaceships to transport astronauts and restore USA access to the space station, a capacity lost when the shuttle program was retired in 2011, as planned after 30 years of operation.
Mr. Behnken, Mr. Hurley, Mr. Boe and Ms. Mann are NASA's first astronauts to be named to the test flights of new US spacecraft since the March 1978 announcement of the space shuttle's first orbital flight test crews.
Assignments for the crew flight tests and the first post-certification missions will be revealed during an event that kicks off at 11 a.m. EDT at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
SpaceX will fly an uncrewed test flight in November 2018 and another with astronauts on board in April 2019.
Chris Ferguson - retired Navy captain and NASA astronaut, now working with Boeing on the CST-100 Starliner program; piloted the Atlantis during STS-115 and commanded both the Endeavour and the Atlantis on STS-126 and STS-135. "We congratulate all the astronauts chosen to fly to the space station on commercially developed systems". He's spent almost 29 days in space. Beyond its own contract with Russia, NASA was able to secure five more seats through an arrangement with Boeing, which obtained them as part of compensation for an unrelated joint space venture (Sea Launch) it had with the Russian company that also builds Soyuz (Energia).
For Crew Dragon, the now confirmed crew includes Navy commander, aviator, and test pilot Victor Glover.
"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 US spacecraft.
NASA says that its astronauts will be joined by other worldwide crew members, to be announced later on.