The team will fly on a spacecraft developed by the Elon Musk-owned SpaceX's Crew Dragon and a global aviation firm-Boeing's CST-100 Starliner. The crewed flight tests will mostly mirror the uncrewed missions, except a flight commander and pilot will be manning each mission once they are ready for a human crew.
From left to right: Eric Boe, Chris Ferguson, Nicole Mann. He was selected as an astronaut in 2013. Since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, the US has been relying on Russian Soyuz rockets, launched from Kazakhstan, to get astronauts to the ISS. Both vehicles are reusable.
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.
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. A recent abort test by Boeing resulted in leaking engine fuel.
Both spacecraft are now undergoing hardware tests, with final processing ahead as launch dates hover closer. But that same propellant can be deadly to humans if not stored carefully.
Boeing has since identified the problem, he said, and is working to fix it.
NASA has been collaborating with commercial space companies for years, with the goal of having the private sector take over "routine" trips to the space station and low Earth orbit.
Currently, NASA can only send staff to the orbiting laboratory with Russia's Soyuz spacecraft. Purchasing additional seats on the fly is apparently not an option because of the lead time it takes to construct new Soyuz capsules. Their mission is scheduled for April 2019. 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.
The two astronauts that the SpaceX company will send later will be Mike Hopkins, who spent 166 days in the space lab, and Victor Glover, who will be making his debut. It will be Mr. Glover's first time in space.
The Boeing Starliner is created to fit up to seven astronauts, although the configuration could change depending on how much cargo the spacecraft would carry.
The nine astronauts, most with previous experience in orbit, will ride the SpaceX Dragon and Boeing Starliner capsules to the International Space Station. He was selected as part of the 2013 astronaut candidate class, and this will be his first spaceflight. Hopkins was a member of Expedition 37 and 38 in 2013 and 2014. Ferguson is a former NASA astronaut and space shuttle commander who now works on Boeing's Starliner program.
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.
Despite the fanfare around Friday's presentation, the Commercial Crew program has endured years of delays. The Crew Dragon spacecraft will launch from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. The public-private partnerships fostered by the program will stimulate growth in a robust commercial space industry and spark life-changing innovations for future generations.