NASA Introduces Nine Astronauts for First Commercial Flights

Ignacio Smith
August 8, 2018

The comments were made following the news that Nasa has assigned nine crew members to the first test flights for missions on US-built commercial spacecrafts - the Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon.

Astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann, whose grandfather was Estonian, is due to take her first space flight onboard the Boeing Starliner in 2019.

"The men and women we assign to these first flights are at the forefront of this exciting new time for human spaceflight", Mark Geyer, director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, said in a statement.

It has been widely reported in the media worldwide that Nasa pays more than $70 million per seat to Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency, to send its astronaut to the ISS using their spacecraft.

The two pairs of NASA crewmates will fly to the station with Russian cosmonauts and worldwide astronauts to be announced at a later date.

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"This is important for our country, we want America to know that we are back, that we are flying American astronauts into USA capsules from American soil", said Jim Bridenstine, the agency's administrator.

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.

SpaceX's first crew tests on the Dragon capsule will be helmed by shuttle veterans Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley.

"The opportunity to fly in a new vehicle is any test pilot and astronaut's dream", Mike Hopkins, an Air Force colonel who will fly aboard the Crew Dragon on its first mission, wrote on Twitter. Mann is a U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and pilot of the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet, while Boe is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who was a test pilot on the Boeing F-15. NASA has worked closely with the companies throughout design, development and testing to ensure the systems meet its safety and performance requirements.

The crew for the SpaceX Crew Dragon test flight, which may end up being the first to launch, features two NASA astronauts: Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. In fact, NASA is paying Boeing and SpaceX billions to fly Americans to and from the International Space Station.

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They will be accompanied by Nicole Aunapu Mann who will make her first trip to space, and the experienced Sunita Williams, former pilot of the US Navy (52 years). She then served two combat tours, flying 47 combat missions in F/A-18s (a U.S. combat jet) as a fighter pilot over Iraq and Afghanistan. "I'll tell you, being able to launch to the International Space Station from US soil, I can't imagine better", Cassada said. He's performed six spacewalks totaling almost 40 hours.

Williams has spent 322 days in space as part of two expeditions: 14/15 and 32/33.

Dragon's thrusters will be fired to move the spacecraft a safe distance from the station before SpaceX flight controllers in Hawthorne, California, command its deorbit burn about 5:23 p.m.

Both Boeing and SpaceX are also working with Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas company that intends to launch private space stations into orbit, to be leased to nations or companies. The company's first mission, should the test be successful, will be flown by Victor Glover, at his first flight to space, and ISS veteran Michael Hopkins. Boe was selected by NASA to be an astronaut in 2000.

NASA has chosen Northeast Philly native and Drexel grad Chris Ferguson to lead crew members on a first-of-its-kind journey to the International Space Station next year.

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