NASA names new crews for space travel

Cristina Cross
August 5, 2018

NASA has assigned the astronauts who will ride the first commercial capsules into orbit next year and bring human launches back to the U.S.

Mr. Behnken, Mr. Hurley, Mr. Boe and Ms. Mann are NASA's first astronauts to be named to the test flights of new US spacecraft since the March 1978 announcement of the space shuttle's first orbital flight test crews.

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NASA has named the astronauts chosen to fly on commercial spacecraft made by Boeing and SpaceX to and from the International Space Station, the research laboratory that orbits around Earth.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

After the Starliner goes for its test flight, Williams will be one of two crew members who ride it for its first mission to the International Space Station, according to NASA.

NASA astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Aunapu Mann are slated for the test flight of Boeing's Starliner, accompanied by former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson, who now works as a commercial astronaut for Boeing. Among them are the commander and pilot of the final shuttle mission in 2011. A NASA press release says more crew members may be added to those flights later.

The missions will mark the first crewed launches from US soil since the end of the space shuttle programme in 2011.

"I'm just really excited we're going to be able to take these spacecraft and show them off to our worldwide partners", Williams told the crowd.

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The Boeing Starliner test flight will see the craft launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, from Cape Canaveral's Space Launch Complex 41 in Florida.

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

NASA also revealed that the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft "packed with science and hardware" will return to Earth on Friday from the International Space Station.

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.

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.

Several of the selected astronauts are shuttle program veterans. Suni Williams, who is best known for running the Boston Marathon on an ISS treadmill, will be joined by rookie astronaut Josh Cassada.

"This is the stuff of dreams ... this is a test pilot's dream", he said. It will be Mr. Cassada's first spaceflight. She is an F/A-18 test pilot with more than 2,500 flight hours in more than 25 aircraft. At the time, test flights were expected to be just around the corner, and the agency pledged to be rid of Russian reliance in 2017.

"It's absolutely an opportunity of a lifetime", said Mann, who was selected as an astronaut in 2013.

Williams has spent 322 days in space as part of two expeditions: 14/15 and 32/33. While in the Air Force, he flew in 55 combat missions over Iraq.

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