NASA has named nine USA astronauts who will fly aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft as part of the first crewed flight test and mission to the International Space Station.
The astronauts will travel in the new Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon. NASA astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Aunapu Mann, along with Boeing's company astronaut Christopher Ferguson, will fly on the Boeing Starliner test flight.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Government Accountability Office recommended NASA pursue a backup plan for getting astronauts to the ISS, as its contract with Russian Federation to send them to the station via Soyuz launches in Kazakhstan ends at the close of 2019.
"This is important for our country, we want America to know that we are back, that we are flying American astronauts into United States capsules from American soil", said Jim Bridenstine, the agency's administrator. "This accomplished group of American astronauts, flying on new spacecraft developed by our commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX, will launch a new era of human spaceflight".
He said the announcement advances "our great American vision" and strengthens America's leadership in space.
This will be the fourth space flight for Ferguson, a former Navy fighter pilot.
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NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, 48, and Douglas Hurley, 51, will fly together as SpaceX's first Crew Dragon crew. NASA says this was actually not a requirement for certifying the vehicles, but both companies opted to perform end-to-end flight tests to ensure the entire integrated system worked properly.
Williams has been named for the Boeing programme to the ISS - the first test flight scheduled to take place in the middle of 2019. Glover was selected by NASA in 2013, and his mission with SpaceX will mark his first time in space. Success in these missions means that the Boeing and SpaceX spacecraft could start regular servicing missions to the ISS. He has spent 166 days on the International Space Station for Expeditions 37/38, and conducted two spacewalks.
Glover, a father of four, was serving as a legislative fellow in the U.S. Senate when he joined NASA in 2013 - beating out a field of more than 6,100 applicants. He is a Navy commander and test pilot with more than 3,500 flight hours in more than 40 aircraft.
Dragon's thrusters will be fired to move the spacecraft a safe distance from the station before SpaceX flight controllers in Hawthorne, California, command its deorbit burn about 5:23 p.m. Boe was selected by NASA to be an astronaut in 2000.
Boeing's second Starliner launch and first bona-fide NASA mission will send astronauts John Cassada and Suni Williams to the ISS. Ferguson is the only non-NASA astronaut. Initially, the Space X and Boeing flights will be "test flights" and flights of crew and cargo to the International Space Station.
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"Both contractors have said that their schedules are aggressive and they set ambitious-rather than realistic-dates, only to frequently delay them", says Cristina Chaplain, the GAO director who provides oversight for NASA, including the Commercial Crew program.