NASA is naming 8 astronauts to fly SpaceX and Boeing's new spaceships

"For the first time since 2011, we are on the brink of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil, " said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who introduced the astronauts at Johnson Space Center in Houston in Friday.

NASA today laid out a newly stretched-out schedule for flying astronauts to the International Space Station from USA soil, with SpaceX's first such flight set for no earlier than next April.

In a ceremony at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, the space agency revealed nine astronauts assigned to the first four crewed flights of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsules.

The commander on the historic last shuttle mission, Chris Ferguson, is now a Boeing employee and has been heavily involved in developing the company's CST-100 Starliner capsule.

In 2014, SpaceX and Boeing received contracts for $2.6 billion and $4.2 billion, respectively, to develop so-called space taxis that can ferry astronauts to and from the space station.

"The first flight is something you dream about as a test pilot, you know, and you don't think it's ever going to happen to you", Hurley said. "It will be thrilling to see our astronauts lift off from American soil, and we can't wait to see them aboard the International Space Station". He flew on two flights of the space shuttle including the final mission, Atlantis's STS-135. 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.

Bob Behnken: Behnken was chosen as an astronaut in 2000 and has been to space twice on two shuttle missions.

All the astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) have been taken there on Russian Soyuz spacecraft since the retirement of the American shuttle in 2011. The Crew Dragon spacecraft will launch from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. SpaceX will launch the Crew Dragon, while Boeing will launch its CST-100 Starliner.

The crew assignments came a day after NASA issued new schedules for the uncrewed and crewed test flights, pushing back the flights by several months from earlier schedules. From left to right: Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Douglas Hurley, Robert Behnken, Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover. Boeing is aiming for a test flight at the end of this year or early next, and the first crew flight in the middle of next year. SpaceX's manned test flight will feature two NASA astronauts.

Both companies will also conduct abort system test flights to ensure the astronauts can safely escape should their rockets go awry.

She made headlines in 2007 for being the first person to run a full marathon in space. SpaceX's first operational flight to the space station will also be Glover's first flight to space. "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".

Boeing's Starliners will soar on United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rockets. Since her selection as an astronaut in 1998, she has spent 322 days aboard the International Space Station for Expeditions 14/15 and Expeditions 32/33, commanded the space station and performed seven spacewalks.

Vanessa Coleman

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