Nasa names astronauts for first commercial flights

04 August, 2018, 01:48 | Author: Grady King
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Indian-origin USA astronaut Sunita Williams is among the nine astronauts named by Nasa on Friday for its first human spaceflight programme since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.

Crewed test flights will likely occur next spring, with Chris Ferguson, a Boeing vice president who was the commander of the last shuttle mission, Eric Boe, a former shuttle pilot, and Nicole Aunapu Mann, a former Navy pilot who will be making her first space flight, onboard the Boeing CST-100 Starliner.

The astronauts named on Friday will be carried aloft aboard spacecraft developed by entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX and Boeing Co, crewing first the test flights, and then missions involving both Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon.

Despite her relatively recent success in her work with NASA as an astronaut, NASA officials have noted she's the type of astronaut who could be sent on a manned mission to Mars or to an asteroid.

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NASA has been collaborating with commercial space companies for years, with the goal of having the private sector take over "routine" trips to the space station and low Earth orbit. Each astronaut flew on two shuttle missions, including Hurley on the final shuttle flight, STS-135, in 2011. Once they receive the certification, NASA expects the companies to launch as many as six crews to the International Space Station.

In this illustration, a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft approaches the International Space Station for docking.

Five of those astronauts flew aboard the United States' last set of spacecraft to travel to the International Space Station (ISS), the space shuttles.

In attendance for the announcement will be NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana.

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The team is split into two parts, with each group specializing in one of the spacecraft: Boeing's CST-100 Starliner or SpaceX's Dragon.

The crew assignments came a day after NASA issued new schedules for the uncrewed and crewed test flights, pushing back the flights by several months from earlier schedules. 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.

The astronauts assigned to the Starliner's first mission are Sunita Williams, who retired as a Navy captain, and Cmdr. This will be Mann's first launch, having joined the astronaut corps in 2013. But while the newly announced crews are excited to once again launch from Florida instead of Kazakhstan, they aren't very nostalgic for the hardware of the shuttles themselves. He is a colonel in the Air Force, where he was a flight test engineer before being selected as a NASA astronaut in 2009.

She made headlines in 2007 for being the first person to run a full marathon in space. Sometimes called the "Commercial Crew Cadre", those astronauts are seasoned veterans who've worked closely with Boeing and SpaceX on their new spacecraft and systems over the past three years.

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The Starliner will launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, and the Dragon will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center about 10 miles away. She has spent a grand total of 322 days in space including a stint commanding the space station and performing seven spacewalks.

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