Needham astronaut heading back to space on first commercial flights

Boeing Starliner

Nasa has named the astronauts who will fly the first missions into space on commercially provided rockets and capsules, starting next year.

If those missions go well, astronauts Mike Hopkins and Victor Glover will fly the first operational Crew Dragon flight to the International Space Station, while astronauts Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada will fly the first operational CST-100 Starliner mission. NASA director Jim Bridenstine says the agency has spent billions of dollars a year to reach this stage and there is no turning back.

In 2014, Boeing and SpaceX were awarded a combined $6.8 billion in contracts from NASA to develop spacecraft capable of flying crews to the space station.

"This is the stuff of dreams", Glover said Friday during an event at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

NASA announced the nine astronauts that will fly on the first crewed flights of SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft during a ceremony here at the agency's Johnson Space Center.

Boeing test pilot Chris Ferguson, who commanded NASA's last space shuttle mission in 2011, appears to be a sure thing for the first Starliner crew, based on advance reports. Behnken, Boe and Hurley have each flown two shuttle missions, logging four weeks in space apiece.

Of the 9 astronauts tapped to serve as crew members, all but 3 are space flight veterans.

"I'm just really excited we're going to be able to take these spacecraft and show them off to our global partners", Williams told the crowd. Similarly, the first Starliner is being now being outfitted for launch at Kennedy Space Center, and the test flight's Atlas V Centaur upper stage-never flown in the dual-engine configuration-ships to Florida in August. "I'll tell you, being able to launch to the International Space Station from US soil, I can't imagine better", Cassada said.

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The nine astronauts, most with previous experience in orbit, will ride the SpaceX Dragon and Boeing Starliner capsules to the International Space Station.

Now five years later, Cassada will become a part of history as he travels to space for the first time in commercial spacecrafts by Boeing and SpaceX. "We're returning to a full-capability ascent abort system to keep astronauts safe all the way through the profile, and that's something that the shuttle didn't have".

Crew for each flight will include at least a flight commander and a pilot. SpaceX aims to launch an uncrewed test flight in November of this year, with a Boeing test flight scheduled for late 2018 or early 2019. She was selected by NASA to be an astronaut in 2013.

Glover, a former Navy commander and test pilot, was also among the 2013 astronaut class.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon that will be used for Demo-1 arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in July. He has spent 166 days on the International Space Station for Expeditions 37/38, and conducted two spacewalks.

The Commercial Crew program, on the whole, has experienced numerous delays and budget shortfalls as Boeing and SpaceX work to bring crewed launches back to the U.S.

NASA seems confident these dates will hold, and that the commercial crew program is finally on the home stretch.

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