Sunita Williams among 9 astronauts for NASA’s new private space flight programme

Posted August 05, 2018

The astronauts will fly on two new spacecraft, the Starliner and Crew Dragon, which are being developed by Boeing and Elon Musk's SpaceX, respectively, as part of NASA's commercial crew program. Suni Williams, who is best known for running the Boston Marathon on an ISS treadmill, will be joined by rookie astronaut Josh Cassada.

After each company successfully completes its crewed test flight, NASA will begin the final process of certifying that spacecraft and systems for regular crew missions to the space station.

NASA paid seed money to SpaceX and Boeing to incentivize them to develop the crew capsules, picking up where the shuttle program left off.

The timetable for the launches was supposed to have been for test flights to take place before the end of 2018, but both companies have faced technical issues that may delay that into 2019.

He said the announcement advances "our great American vision" and strengthens America's leadership in space. The crewed demonstration flight, with two astronauts on board, will follow in April 2019, four months later than previously announced. He flew on Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2008 with fellow Georgia Tech graduates Sandy Magnus and Shane Kimbrough.

For the past seven years, NASA astronauts have hitched rides to the orbiting outpost on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft - at a cost of some $80 million a seat.

NASA astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Aunapu Mann, along with Boeing's company astronaut Christopher Ferguson, will fly on the Boeing Starliner test flight. On the right, NASA astronauts conduct a fully-suited exercise in Boeing's CST-100 Starliner mock-up trainer in early May at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The manned test flight from Boeing will feature one NASA astronaut and one Boeing employee, most likely former astronaut Chris Ferguson. On Friday, the space agency introduced the nine-member team tasked with making the first flights. NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins would fly Dragon's first operational mission to the space station.

VICE News spoke with Dennis Stone, one of the founding members of NASA's commercial investment program, to hear the story behind the agency's success in backing private spaceflight. Each astronaut flew on two shuttle missions, including Hurley on the final shuttle flight, STS-135, in 2011. He returns to NASA after retiring in 2011. Williams came to NASA from the Navy, where she was a test pilot and rose to the rank of captain before retiring.

It is on the subsequent missions that the crew capsules will head to the space station and dock. That will include Canada, Europe and Japan, who have traditionally relied on NASA for ISS transportation.

"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", Mr. Geyer said. Ferguson, the Boeing astronaut, flew three shuttle missions, and has logged more than 40 days in space. SpaceX's first operational flight to the space station will also be Glover's first flight to space.

"What an exciting and awesome day", Jim Bridenstine, NASA's administrator, said at the announcement at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Williams said in Friday's interview that the new mission was "a test pilot's dream". He also serves as a Navy commander, naval aviator and was a test pilot.