Congrats, New Crews! Fellow Astronauts Welcome Private-Spaceship Riders

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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.

The missions will mark the first crewed launches from U.S. soil since the end of the space shuttle programme seven years ago.

"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.

Following this first trial flight, two pilots will travel in the Starliner to the ISS: Suni Williams, who since he was picked to be an astronaut in 1998 has made seven space flights and has spent more than 322 days in the stratosphere, and Josh Cassada, who has yet to make his first space flight.

NASA on Thursday said it expects SpaceX to fly its first astronauts in April of 2019 and Boeing will follow, launching astronauts into space in the middle of next year.

The Boeing crewed test flight, planned for mid-2019, will carry three people, including former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson, commander of STS-135 and, for the last several years, a Boeing employee working on the Starliner program. Other crew members for the first flights are likely to include four astronauts selected back in 2015: Bob Behnken, Eric Boe, Doug Hurley and Sunita Williams.

This will be the first trip into space for Mr. Glover, Mr. Cassada and Ms. Mann.

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Since the shuttle was retired seven years ago, US astronauts have had to fly on Russian rockets from a remote launch site in Kazakhstan. "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".

SpaceX did not give a reason for the delay of its first crewed test flight. SpaceX says their test flight will happen this November, while Boeing is now targeting late 2018 or early 2019.

The first flight is expected sometime next year.

The astronauts assigned to the Starliner's first mission are Sunita Williams, who retired as a Navy captain, and Cmdr. Boeing's and SpaceX's commercial spacecraft may also open the space station - and more broadly, Earth orbit - to more privately-funded visitors and spaceflight participants from countries that do not have their own domestic crewed spacecraft and rockets. Hopkins was a member of Expedition 37 and 38 in 2013 and 2014.

President Donald Trump hailed the announcement on Twitter: "We have the greatest facilities in the world and we are now letting the private sector pay to use them".

She once held the record for total number of spacewalks conducted by a woman (7 walks) and most spacewalk time for a female (50 hours, 40 minutes) during her time on 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.

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