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NASA names astronauts for first manned US space launches since 2011

04 August 2018

VICE News spoke with Dennis Stone, one of the founding members of NASA's commercial investment program, to hear the story behind the agency's success in backing private spaceflight.

In a ceremony at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, NASA announced who would fly on the crewed test flights planned for next year of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon, as well as the first post-certification, or operational, missions by each vehicle. NASA also said SpaceX will launch an uncrewed flight test in November, with Boeing not expected to do that until late in 2018 or in the early part of next year. Boeing said only that it would fly NASA's astronauts by sometime in the middle of next year.

The announcement of crew for these first four flights is a nice morale booster for the Commercial Crew program, but there's still a long way to go. What is not known is who gets to fly on which company's spacecraft, and on which flight they get to launch.

"Today, our country's dreams of greater achievements in space are within our grasp", said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

From left to right: Astronauts Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, Robert Behnken, Douglas Hurley, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Eric Boe, Josh Cassada, and Sunita Williams gave a thumbs up to the crowd.

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Boe is a former shuttle pilot; Mann will be making her first trip into space. He's spent almost 29 days in space.

The eight NASA astronauts will also be joined by a Boeing astronaut. Ever since the Space Shuttle Program ended, American astronauts have been paying for seats on Russia's Soyuz capsules to make it to the International Space Station where they live and work for a span of six months.

NASA on Friday named nine astronauts for the first manned space launches from USA soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.

Ferguson will fly with NASA astronauts Eric Boe, a veteran of two Space Shuttle missions, and Nicole Aunapu Mann on the first crewed test flight of Starliner, which is now projected to take place in mid-2019.

Sunita Williams, a veteran astronaut with roots in Needham, is going back into space.

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After announcing the crews, Bridenstine engaged in a largely lighthearted question-and-answer session with the selected astronauts, who expressed their delight in being selected and anticipation in flying on these next-generation vehicles.

During the manned tests, the astronauts will be able to use the displays inside the spacecraft, communicate with mission control and practise manual controls during flight.

In a recent report, the Government Accountability Office said that further delays in NASA's so-called "Commercial Crew" program could "disrupt access to" the space station, which would be an enormous embarrassment for NASA after investing about $100 billion to build and operate it. Mr. Hopkins logged 166 days aboard the space station in 2014.

NASA is not yet certain exactly when the launches will be.

"Safely and reliably flying commercial crew missions for NASA remains the highest priority for SpaceX", Benji Reed, SpaceX's director of crew mission management, said in a statement.

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The first crewed flights will only spend a short period of time in orbit before coming back to Earth.

NASA names astronauts for first manned US space launches since 2011