NASA names 9 astronauts for first Boeing, SpaceX flights

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Two top Navy pilots, Josh Cassada and Suni Williams, will be on a subsequent Starliner flight ― considered the craft's first mission.

"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.

Some background: The last time humans went to space from the United States was July 2011, aboard the space shuttle Atlantis.

Assuming both test flights go to plan, NASA has contracted six missions from each company, with as many as four astronauts expected to be onboard each mission. NASA astronaut Bob Behnken, an experienced spacewalker who flew on two shuttle missions, will strap into the Crew Dragon alongside former shuttle pilot Doug Hurley. That flight is now projected to lift off in April of 2019.

The announcement can be seen on NASA TV and streamed on NASA's Facebook.

"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. "But you know, it looks like it might".

Both the SpaceX Crew Dragon and the Boeing Starliner are created to take over this task and provide ISS rides to NASA astronauts via a "space taxi" service.

Victor Glover, 42, and Michael Hopkins, 49, will fly on the first operational mission of SpaceX's crewed Dragon.

It's been a long trip for these astronauts.

In a recent report, the Government Accountability Office said that further delays in NASA's so-called "Commercial Crew" program could "disrupt access to" the space station, which would be an enormous embarrassment for NASA after investing about $100 billion to build and operate it.

In a statement released Thursday, NASA and its Commercial Crew partners revealed more details of the effort to carry astronauts from the the International Space Station.

More astronauts will be announced to join the crews at a later date, NASA said. Those were Behnken, Boe, Hurley and Williams. NASA has been paying Russian Federation for flights launched from remote Kazakhstan to the ISS ever since, banking on its Commercial Crew Program to develop a cheaper, reliable and safe American-based alternative. The group includes former space shuttle flyers, ex-military test pilots, rookies, and - critically - a cadre of four astronauts who've already been testing and providing feedback on the new commercial ships for years.

"I'm sure there's at least one Russian-language instructor out there who thinks that having me fly in a USA vehicle is not a bad idea", quipped Cassada. Similarly, the first Starliner is being now being outfitted for launch at Kennedy Space Center, and the test flight's Atlas V Centaur upper stage-never flown in the dual-engine configuration-ships to Florida in August.

SpaceX is gearing up to send humans into space for the first time. It will ride atop a Falcon-9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center. Both vehicles are reusable.

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner, on the other hand, will likely perform two crucial test flights next year, instead of this year as planned.

SpaceX will fly an uncrewed test flight in November 2018 and another with astronauts on board in April 2019.

Those launch targets may change. Therefore, it's essential that Crew Dragon and Starliner be ready for operational flights by the 2020 deadline. But that changed Thursday (Aug. 2) when NASA rolled out a set of new launch targets.

Consequently, NASA can not specify when the test flights will take place or the systems will be ready for operational flights. And Nasa also named the astronauts for those flights as well.