NASA on Friday assigned the astronauts who will ride the first commercial capsules into orbit next year and bring crew launches back to the U.S.
On Friday, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine introduced the nine astronauts, who will fly on the first four crewed missions using the new craft. He will be joined by Eric Boe, who has experience on both the Endeavour and Space Shuttle Discovery (which he piloted in its final mission in February 2011), and Nicole Aunapu Mann, an experienced test pilot and lieutenant colonel in the Marines.
The space agency also confirmed Boeing's plan to put off its first crewed space taxi mission until mid-2019, and geared up to announce who'd be on the first space taxi flights for SpaceX's Crew Dragon as well as Boeing's Starliner.
SpaceX's first crew tests will be manned by shuttle veterans Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley.
"The first flight is something you dream about as a test pilot", said Hurley, who flew on the last shuttle mission.
He will be joined by veteran astronaut Suni Williams, who has spent more than 50 hours on spacewalks and ran the first marathon in space on board the ISS in 2007. "I really think it's just the beginning", Mann told The Associated Press. "After all these years it hasn't gone away".
The seven men and two women will also be the first astronauts to fly in capsules developed and built by the private sector as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. The two front-runners to emerge were SpaceX and Boeing. "That's a big deal". The test flights with crew will take place mid-2019, NASA said. "We take it seriously. We won't let you down".
"I'm sure there's at least one Russian-language instructor out there who thinks that having me fly in a US vehicle is not a bad idea", quipped Cassada. Bridenstine said he had faith in the revised timelines.
"Thanks to the American public for your patience [and] your dedication for allowing us to finish the job", said Shotwell.
The Government Accountability Office said in a recent report that Boeing's spacecraft could "tumble" in some abort scenarios, which "could pose a threat to the crew's safety". Others came during spaceship development: Boeing, for example, recently discovered a fuel leak in its Starliner system.
The announcement marks an important milestone for NASA's Commercial Crew program, which has paid Boeing and SpaceX $6.8 billion since 2014. Interestingly, Ferguson will be the first former NASA astronaut to return to orbit as a company's crew member.
Since the shuttle was retired seven years ago, US astronauts have had to fly on Russian rockets from a remote launch site in Kazakhstan.
In an interview, Sen.
A few months ago, both companies had hoped to start flying people by the end of this year.
Boeing and SpaceX, though, seem keenly aware of the white-hot spotlight on the program and on America's future in low-Earth orbit.