Sunita Williams among 9 astronauts named by NASA for first commercial flights

NASA Spruces Up Astronauts Digs Ahead of Commercial Launches

NASA Spruces Up Astronauts Digs Ahead of Commercial Launches

The Indian-origin astronaut, Williams, is named for the Boeing programme to the International Space Centre (ISS).

Leading up to the a ceremony at the Johnson Space Center here, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said it was a historic moment for the space agency, saying: "We are going to launch American astronauts from American soil".

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, 48, and Douglas Hurley, 51, will fly together as SpaceX's first Dragon crew.

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SpaceX is targeting November 2018 for Crew Dragon's first uncrewed demonstration mission (Demo-1), three months later than the previous schedule released by NASA early this year.

NASA will announce Friday morning the names of the first astronauts to fly to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner.

For Starliner, that will see Navy commander and test pilot Josh Cassada make his first spaceflight, joined by Sunita Williams, a former Navy test pilot and captain before joining NASA. With NASA as the anchor customer, Boeing's Starliner is setting the foundation for commercial passenger flights to and from low-Earth orbit destinations, to include global astronauts, scientists and even tourists.

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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 space station. Though that will require final certification for International Space Station deliveries first, the space agency has already confirmed partial crews for those first missions.

The Starliner will launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, and the Dragon will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center about 10 miles away. The first full mission will send first-time astronaut Josh Cassada into space alongside Sunita Willians, who has spent 322 days aboard the space station. Similarly, the first Starliner is being now being outfitted for launch at Kennedy Space Center, and the test flight's Atlas V Centaur upper stage-never flown in the dual-engine configuration-ships to Florida in August.

The manned test flight from Boeing will feature one NASA astronaut and one Boeing employee, most likely former astronaut Chris Ferguson. But the agency is confident that the Boeing and SpaceX missions are moving toward completion - a sentiment underscored by today's announcement. Mann was affiliated with astronaut corps in 2013 while this will be her inaugural flight. Boe piloted space shuttle Endeavour and Discovery on its final flight, Ferguson piloted and commanded Atlantis and commanded Endeavour, Hurley piloted Endeavor and Atlantis, and Behnken flew aboard space shuttle Endeavour twice. NASA also selected crew members to fly on SpaceX's Crew Dragon vehicle. It'll be his first spaceflight, though he has a wide range of experience with combat missions and testing aircraft. He is a Navy commander and test pilot with more than 3,500 flight hours in more than 40 aircraft.

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Both Boeing and SpaceX are also working with Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas company that plans to launch private space stations into orbit, to be leased to nations or companies. What is not known is who gets to fly on which company's spacecraft, and on which flight they get to launch. He will be joined by Mike Hopkins, a veteran astronaut with more than 160 days at the ISS.

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