Nasa names astronauts for new era

A support structure for Boeing's Starliner spacecraft the first flight of which has been postponed to 2019 is seen being installed in Cape Canaveral Florida in 2016

Nine astronauts were named to ride the SpaceX Dragon and Boeing Starliner capsules - five on the first crew flights and four on the second round of missions to the International Space Station.

Both Boeing and SpaceX say their spacecraft, the CST-100 Starliner and the Crew Dragon, respectively, will be ready for launch sometime next year.

Since the shuttle was retired seven years ago, USA astronauts have had to fly on Russian rockets from a remote launch site in Kazakhstan.

US President Donald Trump also praised the news while giving himself a pat on the back: "Nasa, which is making a BIG comeback under the Trump Administration, has just named 9 astronauts for Boeing and SpaceX space flights", he tweeted.

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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 station, the orbiting laboratory. "Today's announcement advances our great American vision and strengthens the nation's leadership in space", he added.

Astronaut Doug Hurley, who will be on the first crew of the SpaceX Dragon, hinted at the delays when he noted, "The first flight is something you dream about as a test pilot, and you don't think it's ever going to happen to you".

NASA astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Aunapu Mann and Boeing's astronaut Christopher Ferguson will fly the Boeing Starliner test flight, while NASA's Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will pilot the SpaceX Crew Dragon test flight. He began his career with the Air Force, and served as a fighter pilot, test pilot and colonel. NASA has worked closely with the companies throughout design, development and testing to ensure the systems meet its safety and performance requirements. The first mission has been tasked to Josh Cassada (first time in space) and Sunita Williams, ISS astronaut.

According to Elon Musk and Gwynne Shotwell, Cargo Dragon was certified right from the start with a spacecraft lifespan of 3 orbital missions. He has spent 166 days on the International Space Station for Expeditions 37/38, and conducted two spacewalks.

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"It's absolutely an opportunity of a lifetime", said Mann, who was selected as an astronaut in 2013. He's performed six spacewalks totaling almost 40 hours. She has spent 322 days in orbit during two missions to the space station. Launching on Boeing's Starliner will be veteran NASA astronaut Sunita Williams (a former ISS commander) and first-time flyer John Cassada. He was a test pilot and colonel in the Marine Corps before coming to NASA in 2000 to become an astronaut.

Victor Glover is from Pomona, California. At the time, SpaceX's Crew Dragon (known as Dragon V2 at the time) and Boeing's Starliner (just CST-100 back then) won a four-year competition-and contracts worth billions-to fly astronauts to space.

Mike Hopkins: Hopkins was raised on a farm near Richland, Missouri, and he has a master's in aerospace engineering.

NASA is now assigning crew members to these test missions, and will work with both companies and the Eastern range to clear launch dates that will allow all science investigations and other operations on the ISS will not be interrupted.

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