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

The first US astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station, waving after being announced, (left to right) Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, Nicole Aunapu Mann, Chris Ferguson, Eric Boe, Josh Cassada, and Suni Williamson at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas on August 3. "For the first time since 2011, we are on the brink of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil".

NASA said the spacecraft returned to Earth with more than 3,800 pounds (more than 1,700 kilograms) of cargo, including specimens from biological experiments conducted on-board the space station. American astronauts have still traveled to space, but they've used Russia's Soyuz spacecraft at a cost of about $80 million per seat.

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

Leading up to the ceremony at the Johnson Space Center here, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said it was a historic moment for the agency: "We are going to launch American astronauts from American soil". Former chief astronaut Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley - who served as co-pilot on the final shuttle mission - will fly on SpaceX's Dragon during its first manned flight.

Since the shuttle was retired seven years ago, American astronauts have had to fly on Russian rockets from a remote launch site in Kazakhstan. This will be Mann's first launch, having joined the astronaut corps in 2013. Williams previously logged 321 days in orbit on two stays aboard the space station, most recently returning to the Earth in 2012.

The first flight of SpaceX's Crew Dragon is expected in April 2019, following an unmanned test in November, NASA said. What is not known is who gets to fly on which company's spacecraft, and on which flight they get to launch.

A commercial Dragon cargo craft launched June 29 departed the International Space Station and returned to Earth on Friday with almost two tons of cargo and research samples.

Plans will be for NASA to send four astronauts up to the station on each mission, one more than the current three-person crews.

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.

The Commercial Crew program, on the whole, has experienced numerous delays and budget shortfalls as Boeing and SpaceX work to bring crewed launches back to the U.S.

NASA's continuous presence on the space station for nearly 18 years has enabled technology demonstrations and research in biology and biotechnology, Earth and space science, human health, physical sciences.

NASA TV is broadcasting video of the announcement live from Texas.

After that, the companies move on to actual missions. Just as in the past, all human launches will originate here on the space coast.

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.

  • Joey Payne