NASA names astronauts for first manned U.S. space launches since 2011

Sounds of NASA’s Robotic Operations Center

NASA has announced the first astronauts who will head to the International Space Station on a commercially built spacecraft.

The program's core goals are to get an American-made ships able reach the International Space Station (ISS), plus reduce or eliminate USA reliance on Russia's ever-more-expensive Soyuz spaceships to get there.

"This is a big deal for our country, and we want Americans to know that we are back", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told the crowd.

NASA also announced the astronauts for the first missions, which will be long-duration and dock with the International Space Station.

He said the announcement advances "our great American vision" and strengthens America's leadership in space.

The crew for the test flight of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner will be NASA astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Aunapu Mann flying with Boeing employee and former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson.

Eric Boe is a former Air Force fighter pilot and test pilot, who previously piloted space shuttle Endeavour on the STS-126 mission and Discovery on its final flight, STS-133.

The space agency says each post-certification flight by the CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon spacecraft will carry four passengers on half-year expeditions to the space station.

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

American astronauts haven't launched from the US since 2011, and the first commercial company to make that happen first will undoubtedly receive accolades.

"NASA is continuing to assess multiple scenarios to ensure continued USA access to the International Space Station", the space agency told Bloomberg.

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.

An unmanned Boeing flight test is scheduled for later this year, with the first crew on board in mid-2019, NASA said. He also serves as a Navy commander, naval aviator and was a test pilot.

Glover and Cassada are spaceflight rookies.

"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", Doug Hurley said.

In this illustration, a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft approaches the International Space Station for docking. I've watched people and teams come together these last few years, and now we're getting close to space flight. He made 400 carrier landings and flew 24 combat missions. She is a retired Navy captain and test pilot and was selected as a NASA astronaut in 1998.

Michael Hopkins was born in Lebanon, Missouri, and grew up on a farm near Richland, Missouri. She has logged 322 days in space. He is an Air Force colonel.

By handing off crew and cargo runs to the space station - which will keep orbiting until at least 2024 - NASA has set its sight on the moon and Mars, developing the Orion capsule and the massive Space Launch System rocket.

Additional crew members will be assigned by NASA's worldwide partners at a later date.

Some of the newly named crew, like Cassada, joined NASA expecting to fly on Soyuz spacecraft before any new American ship.

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