NASA Announces Crew For First Commercial Space Flights

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The five astronauts assigned to the first flights gathered Friday at Johnson Space Center in Houston for the announcement.

NASA announced on Friday the astronauts who will crew the Boeing and SpaceX spacecraft, the first time Americans will return to space in hopes of reaching the International Space Station from Florida's Space Coast since 2011.

NASA has named nine astronauts to crew the first test flights and missions of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule.

(AP) In addition to naming the crews of the test flights, Nasa also announced today the four astronauts who will fly aboard the first operational Starliner and Dragon missions to the space station.

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SpaceX's Crew Dragon space capsule, which will make a trial trip attached to a Falcon rocket launched from Florida, will have a crew of two: Doug Hurley, who piloted both the Endeavor and the Atlantis, and Bob Behnken, who has six space trips on his resume.

On the left, NASA astronaut Suni Williams, fully suited in SpaceX's spacesuit, uses the display inside a mock-up of the Crew Dragon spacecraft in Hawthorne, Calif., during a testing exercise on April 3. It may also include Russia, as NASA officials have discussed in the past flying Russian cosmonauts on commercial crew vehicles, possibly in exchange for seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The space station's operational lifespan has already been extended to reach 2025, though the White House recently began discussing the idea of turning the aging station over to commercial investors who might be interested in continuing the ISS's run of maintaining a continuously manned presence in space for almost two decades.

After each company successfully completes its crewed test flight, NASA will begin the final process of certifying that spacecraft and systems for regular crew missions to the space station. On the right, NASA astronauts conduct a fully-suited exercise in Boeing's CST-100 Starliner mock-up trainer in early May at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston. He retired from NASA in 2011 and has been an integral part of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner program.

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NASA has spent billions developing the Space Launch System and its first flight, scheduled for 2020, will send an uncrewed capsule around the moon and back.

On the first operational mission to the International Space Station, Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada would fly for Boeing. Both vehicles were developed in cooperation with Nasa to deliver crew members to and from the orbiting laboratory. The first Crew Dragon post-certification mission will be flown by Victor Glover, another rookie astronaut selected in 2013, and Mike Hopkins, who spent 166 days on one station mission. The first tests flights are expected to take place within the next few months, into early next year. "We had our quarterly [review] this week, and for the first time in years, it felt real". Robert Behnken, Douglas Hurley, Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins will fly with SpaceX. Sometimes called the "Commercial Crew Cadre", those astronauts are seasoned veterans who've worked closely with Boeing and SpaceX on their new spacecraft and systems over the past three years.

The Starliner will launch aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The contracts for travel to the International Space Station were awarded in 2014.

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