NASA Names First Commercial Space Crews


Image: NASA

NASA has announced the names of nine astronauts who will be among the first people to launch into space aboard commercially built spacecraft. After the initial test flights, crews will travel to the International Space Station (ISS) using the Boeing Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 Starliner and the SpaceX Crew Dragon. These missions will mark the first time astronauts have launched from U.S. soil since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.

The first manned SpaceX demo flight is tentatively scheduled to launch into low-Earth orbit in April 2019 with astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley on board. An unmanned test flight is scheduled to take place this November. The first manned test flight of the Starliner—crewed by Eric Boe, Christopher Ferguson and Nicole Aunapu Mann—is planned for mid-2019 following an unmanned test in either late 2018 or early 2019. If the tests are successful, NASA says it will certify the companies for ISS crew rotation missions.

“The men and women we assign to these first flights are at the forefront of this exciting new time for human spaceflight,” said Mark Geyer, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “It will be thrilling to see our astronauts lift off from American soil, and we can’t wait to see them aboard the International Space Station.” After the test flights, astronauts Josh Cassada and Sunita Williams are slated to fly the first Starliner mission to the ISS. Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins will take the first Crew Dragon mission. NASA says more crew members will be assigned by its international partners at a later date.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon will launch using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It is a manned version of the company’s Dragon, which became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the space station in 2012. SpaceX says the Crew Dragon will be fully autonomous, allowing it to be monitored and controlled by mission control as well as by the astronauts on board.

Boeing’s Starliner space capsule was designed to accommodate seven passengers—or a mix of crew and cargo—for low-Earth orbit missions. Boeing says the Starliner capsule is reusable up to 10 times with a six-month turnaround time. It will be launched via a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Both the Crew Dragon and the Starliner will depart from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.