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Sunita Williams among 9 astronauts to fly on US' first private spaceships

06 August 2018

"For the first time since 2011, we are on the brink of launching American astronauts from American rockets on American soil", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a televised briefing on Friday.

NASA introduced the nine USA astronauts who will fly on commercial Boeing and SpaceX spacecraft on Friday.

"Both contractors have said that their schedules are aggressive and they set ambitious-rather than realistic-dates, only to frequently delay them", says Cristina Chaplain, the GAO director who provides oversight for NASA, including the Commercial Crew program.

"What an exciting and unbelievable day", Jim Bridenstine, NASA's administrator, said at the announcement at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "This accomplished group of American astronauts, flying on new spacecraft developed by our commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX, will launch a new era of human spaceflight". According to him, this announcement advances the great American Vision and strengthens America's leadership in space.

For the missions to be successful, both capsules will have to launch, travel safely to the International Space Station (ISS), dock and undock autonomously and then safely bring the crews back to Earth. He began his career at NASA in 2000 and piloted two space shuttle missions, one on Endeavor in 2009 and the final shuttle mission on Atlantis in 2011.

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But NASA's options may be limited by the worldwide agreements that established the station in 1998. This will be Mann's first launch, having joined the astronaut corps in 2013. "And believe me, it's only going to get better as we charge off into the future".

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

The first SpaceX Crew Dragon flight to the space station will include NASA astronaut and Navy test pilot Victor Glover, who has logged more than 3,000 hours flying 40 different aircraft and NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, who has logged 166 days in space so far.

Once the first crewed test flights are complete, two more crews will fly on Crew Dragon and Starliner for long-duration missions to the space station. Boeing is also part of the United Launch Alliance (along with Lockheed Martin), a launch services company that uses launchpads at both CCAFS and Vandenberg.

SpaceX and Boeing have been working on their space taxi programs for almost four years, with the aim of transporting astronauts to and from the space station for NASA.

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For Mann, a former F-18 test pilot with the Marines, though, this will be her first space flight. The 1997 electrical engineering master's recipient has been selected by NASA to fly aboard Boeing's first commercial crew flight test, which is expected to lift off from Florida in the middle of 2019.

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and the SpaceX Crew Dragon were selected by NASA for crew transport to the ISS. The crewed flight tests will mostly mirror the uncrewed missions, except a flight commander and pilot will be manning each mission once they are ready for a human crew.

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner will be launched from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

"Completion of the core stage forward skirt is a major step in NASA's progress to the launch pad", said Deborah Bagdigian, lead manager for the forward skirt at the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

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Sunita Williams among 9 astronauts to fly on US' first private spaceships