Blend of novices, veterans to fly on first private United States spaceships

NASA Spruces Up Astronauts Digs Ahead of Commercial Launches

One of three suit containment rooms where astronauts once got and will again get dressed for their visits to space. Credit Kim Shiflett NASA

Since the end of NASA's space shuttle program in 2011, the American space agency has relied on Russian rockets and capsules to bring their astronauts to the International Space Station.

In a statement released Thursday, NASA and its Commercial Crew partners revealed more details of the effort to carry astronauts from the the International Space Station.

NASA was established by the federal government during the Cold War to project American prestige and beat the Soviets, all in the name of space science.

The astronauts were divided into smaller crews assigned to work on test flights and first missions to the global space station.

He said the announcement advances "our great American vision" and strengthens America's leadership in space.

Friday, NASA said that if unmanned test flights go smoothly, the group of nine astronauts will fly before then, on the first test flight and mission of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon.

Chris Ferguson, a former NASA astronaut who has worked with Boeing as it developed its Starliner spacecraft, will fly as a private astronaut. He flew on two flights of the space shuttle including the final mission, Atlantis's STS-135.

The commercial crew members took to the stage during an event led by Bridenstine at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

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On Friday, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine introduced the nine astronauts, who will fly on the first four crewed missions using the new craft.

Ferguson commanded the final mission of the space shuttle program, and Hurley was the pilot on that flight. Also onboard will be Air Force colonel Michael Hopkins, selected to be a NASA astronaut in 2009, and who has already spent 166 days on the International Space Station for Expeditions 37/38, along with conducting two spacewalks. "To meet NASA's requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station".

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft will be launched on one of the company's Falcon 9 rockets, while Boeing's Starliner will hitch a lift on United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5.

Josh Cassada: Cassada grew up in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. He also serves as a Navy commander, naval aviator and was a test pilot. This will be his first spaceflight. He is a Navy commander, aviator and test pilot with nearly 3,000 hours flying more than 40 different aircraft. While in the Air Force, he flew in 55 combat missions over Iraq.

Suni Williams: Williams grew up in Needham, Massachusetts. Williams came to NASA from the Navy, where she was a test pilot and rose to the rank of captain before retiring. She is an F/A-18 test pilot with more than 2,500 flight hours in more than 25 aircraft.

Mike Hopkins: Hopkins was raised on a farm near Richland, Missouri, and he has a master's in aerospace engineering. NASA is working with Space X and Boeing to develop the spacecraft.

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

Some of the newly named crew, like Cassada, joined NASA expecting to fly on Soyuz spacecraft before any new American ship.

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