NASA names astronauts for first commercial space flights

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NASA has tapped nine astronauts to become the first to launch to space from American soil since the Space Shuttle program was retired in 2011.

Boeing Starliner's flight will be known as the Orbital Flight Test, and it will depart atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. They will mark the first astronaut launches from USA soil since the 2011 retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet.

Boe, a veteran NASA astronaut, has logged more than 28 days in space across two Space Shuttle missions.

"What an exciting and awesome day", Jim Bridenstine, NASA's administrator, said at the announcement at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

In 2014, Boeing and SpaceX were awarded a combined $6.8 billion in contracts from NASA to develop spacecraft capable of flying crews to the station, the orbiting laboratory.

NASA made the announcement today (Aug. 3) here at the Johnson Space Center, with the agency revealing the eight agency astronauts and one Boeing astronaut before a cheering crowd of lawmakers, dignitaries and kids waving signs and American flags. In between them, the astronauts have decades of space experience, including as members of the now-retired space shuttle.

For SpaceX, the Crew Dragon test flight astronauts are spaceflight veterans, Robert Behnken and Doug Hurley. He began his career with the Air Force, and served as a fighter pilot, test pilot and colonel.

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While NASA didn't require uncrewed flight tests, both companies will be shooting them off to the ISS anyway, because you can never be too positive things won't glitch once you're 1,200 miles beyond Earth's atmosphere. Since then, every nation on Earth has relied on Russian Federation to get to the International Space Station.

Nicole Aunapu Mann is a California native and a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps.

The UAE is also sending its first Emirati astronaut to the ISS using the Soyuz MS-12 mission in April, 2019.

. Journey on one of the last shuttle missions to witness some final "firsts" made aboard this unique spacecraft.

"This was above and beyond the NASA requirement in the contract", said NASA Kennedy Commercial Crew Program manager Kathy Lueders.

As for being the only non-NASA guy on board, Ferguson explained later during a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" program that Boeing always uses company test pilots for first flights "and the Starliner is no exception". She was selected as an astronaut in 1998, and went on spend 322 days aboard the ISS, commanded the space station and performed seven spacewalks. He's performed six spacewalks totaling almost 40 hours. Preceding them in flight will be Chris Ferguson, Nicole Mann, and Eric Boe who will conduct the vehicle's test flight. If any further delays creep up, NASA's astronauts may be temporarily stranded on Earth. Josh Cassada and Sunita Williams will crew the Starliner's first mission, while Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins will fly aboard the Crew Dragon first mission.

Mike Hopkins: Hopkins was raised on a farm near Richland, Missouri, and he has a master's in aerospace engineering.

Maintaining the International Space Station costs the federal government up to $4 billion a year, and NASA is working on plans to privatize it.