Astronauts picked for SpaceX, Boeing capsule test flights

In a ceremony at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, NASA announced who would fly on the crewed test flights planned for next year of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon, as well as the first post-certification, or operational, missions by each vehicle.

"What an exciting and incredible day", Jim Bridenstine, NASA's administrator, said at the announcement at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The assignments will come from among a list of four astronauts who have already been training for the commercial crew program - Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams - all of whom have been on previous missions to the International Space Station.

The missions will mark the first crewed launches from United States soil since the end of the space shuttle programme seven years ago.

Chris Ferguson: While Ferguson has been retired from NASA since 2011, he has worked with Boeing's Starliner program for years, earning him a key post on the first crewed test of the system.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company is targeting November for an unmanned test launch of the Crew Dragon atop a Falcon 9 rocket.

The first Boeing trip to the orbiting outpost includes Josh Cassada, who has never been in space before, and Suni Williams, who is one of the most experienced American astronauts in history, having spent a cumulative 321 days in orbit through her career. He has spent 166 days on the International Space Station for Expeditions 37/38, and conducted two spacewalks.

Both vehicles will launch from Florida - Boeing's Starliner, boosted by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and SpaceX's Dragon from pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center. The agency has contracted six missions, with as many as four astronauts per mission, for each company. And finally, the second SpaceX demo flight will be crewed by Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

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After the Starliner goes for its test flight, Williams will be one of two crew members who ride it for its first mission to the International Space Station, according to NASA.

Ferguson commanded the final mission of the space shuttle program, and Hurley was the pilot on that flight. This will be Mann's first launch, having joined the astronaut corps in 2013. While both companies had recently said they would fly their first test flights with astronauts on board by the end of this year, those flights are now scheduled for 2019.

SpaceX did not give a reason for the delay of its first crewed test flight. The first tests flights are expected to take place within the next few months, into early next year. He is a colonel in the Air Force, where he was a flight test engineer before being selected as a NASA astronaut in 2009.

Victor Glover, 42, and Michael Hopkins, 49, will fly on the first operational mission of SpaceX's crewed Dragon. While she was there in 2007, she completed the Boston Marathon - on a treadmill - in 4 hours 24 minutes, marking the first time an entrant had finished the race from orbit.

NASA TV is broadcasting video of the announcement live from Texas.

NASA's Commercial Crew Program is facilitating the development of a US commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit.

The new spaceflight capability provided by Boeing and SpaceX will allow NASA to maintain a crew of seven astronauts on the space station, thereby maximizing scientific research that leads to breakthroughs and also aids in understanding and mitigating the challenges of long-duration spaceflight. What is not known is who gets to fly on which company's spacecraft, and on which flight they get to launch.

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