Nine men and women have been selected by NASA to be the first astronauts to fly on commercial spaceflight vehicles built by Boeing and SpaceX.
Unofficially dubbed the “Commercial Crew Nine,” the group, whose names were announced by the space agency on Friday, August 3, consist of eight NASA astronauts and one who works for Boeing.
Their launches to the International Space Station (ISS) will be the first from US soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.
The astronauts were introduced in a public announcement made at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
“This is a big deal for our country, and we want Americans to know that we are back. We’re flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner will each conduct two inaugural test flights to the ISS. For both companies, the first flights will be un-crewed. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket while Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner will launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. Both rockets are reusable.
Target dates for both the un-crewed and crewed launches remain uncertain. SpaceX hopes to launch the un-crewed mission in November of this year and the crewed one sometime next spring. Boeing’s schedule is similar, with the un-crewed launch now planned for either late 2018 or early 2019 and the crewed launch scheduled for mid-2019.
Both first flights were initially scheduled to launch in August 2018 and be followed by crewed launches later this year.
In 2014, NASA awarded SpaceX and Boeing contracts to fly astronauts to the ISS after the two companies won a competition that lasted four years.
One year later, the space agency announced that astronauts Bob Behnken, Eric Boe, Doug Hurley, and Sunita Williams were beginning training with SpaceX and Boeing.
Behnken and Hurley, both veteran NASA astronauts, will be the first to fly on the Crew Dragon, with launch currently scheduled for April 2019.
NASA astronauts Boe and Nicole Aunapu Mann and Boeing astronaut Chris Ferguson will be the first to fly on the Starliner.
Both the Crew Dragon and Starliner will fly two more missions after their crewed test flights. Veteran NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins and newcomer Victor Glover will fly on the next Crew Dragon mission while former ISS commander Williams and newcomer John Cassada will fly on the next Starliner mission.