NASA Announces Crew For First Commercial Space Flights

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The missions are expected to take the astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

NASA's Commercial Crew Program is facilitating the development of a US commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit. Ferguson will work as the commander of the Starliner during its orbital test mission.

NASA officials didn't state why a three-person crew would be flying on the Starliner test flight, but the agency announced an agreement earlier this year with Boeing to study turning that crewed test flight into an operational mission in the event of further commercial crew delays.

He retired from NASA in 2011, and he now directs the Crew and Mission Operations for Boeing's Commercial Crew Program. The test flight with crew is scheduled for mid-2019.

Boeing has leased two of NASA's old space shuttle hangars at KSC, known as Orbiter Processing Facilities, to build its Starliners and house two small robotic X-37B space planes it built for the Air Force. The space agency's current arrangement with Russian Federation for Soyuz seats is set to run out in January 2020, a date that has already been stretched by extending upcoming ISS expeditions beyond six months. Former chief astronaut Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley - who served as co-pilot on the final shuttle mission - will fly on SpaceX's Dragon during its first manned flight.

SpaceX is shooting for a test flight without passengers in November and a crew flight in April.

NASA has been paying billions of dollars to SpaceX and Boeing to develop the crew capsules to pick up where the space shuttles left off in 2011, while also paying billions for cargo deliveries to the space station by SpaceX and Northrop Grumman. Boeing's first operational mission to the space station will mark his first time in space.

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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. Additional crew members will be assigned by NASA's worldwide partners in the space station at a later date, the agency said.

The crew missions have been delayed repeatedly because of the technical challenges and difficulties of making spacecraft safe for humans.

Astronauts, from left to right, Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, Robert Behnken, Douglas Hurley, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Eric Boe, Josh Cassada and Sunita Williams.

As for being the only non-NASA guy on board, Ferguson explained later during a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" program that Boeing always uses company test pilots for first flights "and the Starliner is no exception".

SpaceX has also faced its own problems, particularly with its Falcon 9 rocket that will power the Dragon into space.

Their voyages are scheduled to begin next year, and they would be the first American astronauts to launch from US soil since 2011.

Glover and Cassada are spaceflight rookies. He joined the astronaut corps in 2000 and flew aboard space shuttle Endeavour twice, for the STS-123 and STS-130 missions, during which he performed six spacewalks totaling more than 37 hours. "To meet NASA's requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station".

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