The first US astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station, waving after being announced, (left to right) Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, Nicole Aunapu Mann, Chris Ferguson, Eric Boe, Josh Cassada, and Suni Williamson at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas on August 3.
The return of crew flights to USA soil will end NASA's politically inconvenient reliance on Russian Federation for transporting astronauts to the ISS. Additional crew members will be assigned by NASA's global partners in the space station at a later date, the agency said. American astronauts will be flying American built rockets into space from American soil.
Leading up to the ceremony at the Johnson Space Center here, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said it was a historic moment for the agency: "We are going to launch American astronauts from American soil". The astronauts are (L to R): Victor Glover, Robert Behnken, Michael Hopkins, Douglas Hurley, Eric Boe, Sunita Williams, Christopher Ferguson, Josh Cassada, and Nicole Mann. He will be joined by Victor Glover, a Navy commander who will be making his first trip into space.
The announcement is a big deal because the last American crew-carrying spacecraft - NASA's fleet of four space shuttle orbiters - retired in July 2011. He's spent almost 29 days in space. At nearly 240 feet long, more than 350 feet wide, nearly 70 feet tall and weighing in at around 925,335 pounds; a fair portion of the giant structure will likely survive re-entry and reach the Earth's surface like a fiery meteorite (between 53,500 and 173,250 pounds worth by NASA's estimate).
NASA awaits the completion of both companies' test flights before certifying either safe for use to return astronauts on low-Earth-orbit missions. SpaceX is targeting April 2019 for its crewed demonstration flight, Demo-2. The unmanned test flight is scheduled for late 2018 or early 2019.
Both companies will also conduct abort system test flights to ensure the astronauts can safely escape should their rockets go awry.
SpaceX did not give a reason for the delay of its first crewed test flight. Just as in the past, all human launches will originate here on the space coast. Boeing said only that it would fly NASA's astronauts by sometime in the middle of next year.
Non-astronaut William Seely, the U.S. Marine Corps director of communication (public affairs), made sure to offer his support and congratulations to NASA astronaut Nicole Mann.
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.
When approved, each company is slated for six missions to the space station between 2019 and 2024, a total of 12 missions between the two companies. But the schedule has repeatedly moved to the right for SpaceX as well as Boeing, due to setbacks ranging from SpaceX's launch pad blow-up in 2016 to Boeing's engine valve problems this June.