Published: Wed, August 08, 2018
Science | By Cecil Little

Sunita Williams among 9 astronauts to fly first commercial spacecraft

Sunita Williams among 9 astronauts to fly first commercial spacecraft

The missions will mark the first crewed launches from US soil since the end of the space shuttle programme in 2011.

After the ending of space shuttle program in 2011, NASA astronauts were travelling to the ISS aboard Russia's Soyuz spacecraft. Now, we know the names of those launches' first passengers.

NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine, was on hand at NASA's Johnson Space Center to announce the nine new commercial crew astronauts. Using American-made spacecrafts and launching from the U.S. soil is a more affordable option for the US. In December, Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1 to set the moon as NASA's next goal for astronauts. According to NASA website, Williams - a veteran of two space mission expeditions - is now training for the first post-certification mission of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft - the second crewed flight for that vehicle - and her third long duration mission aboard the International Space Station. Boeing astronaut, and retired NASA astronaut, Chris Ferguson joins the eight commercial crew astronauts as the first citizen astronaut. Ferguson now works for Boeing and is poised to become the first-ever private company astronaut. Ferguson is a former NASA astronaut and space shuttle commander who now works on Boeing's Starliner program. He began his career with the Air Force, and served as a fighter pilot, test pilot and colonel. Boe will be making his third trip to space. "I'm just grateful to be able to usher in this new era of American spaceflight". "We take it seriously".

Crew Dragon is a passenger version of a robotic cargo ship Dragon, and SpaceX plans to use the spacecraft to send astronauts to the worldwide space station.

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

NASA ended the shuttle program seven years ago after 135 missions as the space agency shifted its priorities to developing hardware for deep space travel. Her first was a space shuttle mission that launched in 2007, and the second was a Soyuz-launched mission in 2012.

Three of the chosen astronauts joined the corps in 2013, which was before the commercial partnership was announced. No female astronaut has logged more spacewalk time.

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"It is going to be a proud moment for America", Mann said.

"I'm sure that there is at least one Russian language instructor out there who thinks that having me fly a US vehicle is not a awful idea", Cassada said.

Clockwise from top left: Sunita Williams, Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley and Eric Boe.

When Glover left San Luis Obispo almost 20 years ago, he joined the U.S. Navy and began his career as a Naval Aviator and test pilot. He is a Navy commander and test pilot with more than 3,500 flight hours in more than 40 aircraft.

Today's crew announcement for the SpaceX and Boeing test flights is a major step for NASA's push to restore American crewed access to space from US soil.

"This is the stuff of dreams ... this is a test pilot's dream", he said.

The space agency has reason to be eager.

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All nine astronauts have military experience, and most are seasoned veterans of space.

SpaceX said it would fly crews by April of next year.

Delays are normal, especially when trying to make spacecraft safe and reliable, but the companies' rosy projections despite expected snafus have drawn criticism.

Boeing is now working through technical issues with its abort and parachute systems.

Boeing has since identified the problem, he said, and is working to fix it. Boeing's dates recently slipped after a problem during a test of the Starliner's abort system engines in June.

The companies are running out of buffer. Boe was selected by NASA to be an astronaut in 2000. Unfortunately, NASA's contract granting access to the Russian ship runs out in November of 2019. "The ISS can not function without a US presence on board to maintain and operate integral systems".

Over the past several years, NASA has pushed the private sector to maintain a presence in low-Earth orbit.

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"This is just the beginning of the missions that this country is embarking upon.", says Geyer, "We are ready to assign the crews for the first flights, but the launch is only the beginning". "We won't let you down".

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