NASA names astronauts for first manned US space launches since 2011

NASA names astronauts for first manned US space launches since 2011

NASA names astronauts for first manned US space launches since 2011

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

Indian-origin USA astronaut Sunita Williams is among the nine astronauts named by Nasa on Friday for its first human spaceflight programme since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.

NASA assigned nine astronauts to crew the first test flight and mission of both Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon.

Astronaut Doug Hurley, who will be on the Space X test flight, hinted at the delays when he noted at Friday's Johnson Space Center announcement: "The first flight is something you dream about as a test pilot, and you don't think it's ever going to happen to you".

When test flights do launch, Boeing's flight is dubbed Orbital Flight Test followed by Crew Flight Test. SpaceX's first flight is dubbed Demonstration Mission 1 followed by Demonstration Mission 2.

NASA's Commercial Crew Program, as it's called, will soon launch launch one uncrewed and two crewed test flights of each new spacecraft.

"Safely and reliably flying commercial crew missions for NASA remains the highest priority for SpaceX", Benji Reed, SpaceX's director of crew mission management, said in a statement. The crew includes shuttle astronauts, crew members from the International Space Station and even some who have never flown out to space.

Nine astronauts have new travel plans aboard commercial space capsules, with their mission assignments announced earlier today (Aug. 3).

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Williams has already taken two trips to the space station, commanded it, and racked up 322 days in space, second on the all-time list for female astronauts.

He retired from NASA in 2011, and he now directs the Crew and Mission Operations for Boeing's Commercial Crew Program.

Both vehicles will launch from Florida - Boeing's Starliner, boosted by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and SpaceX's Dragon from pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center.

In this illustration, a Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is shown in low-Earth orbit.

If those flights are successful, the companies will be certified by NASA for crew rotation missions. "The person who could do a spacewalk, do some robotics, had a test background if that was required for the mission at hand, and so really looking for a crew member that touches all those bases was really critical going forward", Behnken said. This will be Mann's first launch, having joined the astronaut corps in 2013.

Astronauts, from left to right, Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, Robert Behnken, Douglas Hurley, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Eric Boe, Josh Cassada and Sunita Williams.

During the manned tests, the astronauts will be able to use the displays inside the spacecraft, communicate with mission control and practise manual controls during flight. Josh Cassada and Suni Williams will be the second crew for the Starliner and Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins will be the second crew for the Dragon. Boeing's and SpaceX's commercial spacecraft may also open the space station - and more broadly, Earth orbit - to more privately-funded visitors and spaceflight participants from countries that do not have their own domestic crewed spacecraft and rockets.

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