Sunita Williams among nine astronauts named by NASA for new human space programme

03 Aug 2018

Eight active NASA astronauts and one former astronaut-turned-corporate crew member will launch on Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Dragoncapsules to the International Space Station beginning in 2019.

Indian-origin United States astronaut Sunita Williams is amongnine astronauts named by NASA on Friday for its first human spaceflightprogramme since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.

After years of vehicledevelopment and building anticipation, the National Aeronautics and SpaceAdministration (NASA) has now put the crew in commercial crew spacecraft.

The space agency announcedthat the nine astronauts will launch on the first crewed test flights andmissions of new commercial spacecraft built and operated by Boeing and SpaceX.

The eight active NASAastronauts and one former astronaut-turned-corporate crew member will launch onBoeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Dragoncapsules to the International SpaceStation beginning in 2019.

The missions will mark thefirst crewed launches from US soil since the end of the space shuttle programmeseven years ago.

In addition to naming thecrews of the test flights, NASA also announced today the four astronauts whowill fly aboard the first operational Starliner and Dragon missions to thespace station. Both vehicles were developed in cooperation with NASA to delivercrew members to and from the orbiting laboratory.

Josh Cassada, 45, will flywith Sunita (“Suni”) Williams, 52, aboard NASA’s first contracted Starlinermission. It will be Cassada’s first spaceflight. Williams previously logged 321days in orbit on two stays aboard the space station, most recently returning tothe earth in 2012.

The commercial crew memberstook to the stage during an event led by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine atthe agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. NASA astronauts Robert Behnken,48, and Douglas Hurley, 51, will fly together as SpaceX’s first Dragon crew.

Veterans of two spaceflightseach, Behnken and Hurley will lift off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from theKennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A — the same Florida launch pad where the spaceshuttle left Earth for the last time in July 2011 with Hurley as pilot.

NASA astronauts Eric Boe, 53,and Nicole Mann, 41, will join the commander of that same final space shuttlemission, former astronaut and now Boeing executive Christopher Ferguson, 56, asthe crew of the Starliner test flight, launching atop a United Launch AllianceAtlas V rocket from Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station inFlorida.

Ferguson, who has beeninvolved from the start in the Starliner’s development, flew three shuttlemissions as a NASA astronaut. Boe piloted two shuttle flights. This will beMann’s first launch, having joined the astronaut corps in 2013.

Behnken, Hurley, Boe and Mannare NASA’s first astronauts to be named to the test flights of new USspacecraft since the March 1978 announcement of the space shuttle’s firstorbital flight test crews. Ferguson will become the first former NASA astronautto return to orbit as a company’s crew member when he flies.

Prior to their maiden crewedmissions, both Boeing and SpaceX plan uncrewed test flights in late 2018 orearly 2019. Both companies will also conduct abort system test flights toensure the astronauts can safely escape should their rockets go awry.

Victor Glover, 42, andMichael Hopkins, 49, will fly on the first operational mission of SpaceX’screwed Dragon. It will be Glover’s first time in space. Hopkins logged 166 daysaboard the space station in 2014.

The two pairs of NASAcrewmates will fly to the station with Russian cosmonauts and internationalastronauts to be announced at a later date. Between the end of the spaceshuttle program and the start of commercial crew operations, NASA’s crewmembers have and are continuing to launch to the space station on Russian Soyuzspacecraft.

Behnken, Boe, Hurley andWilliams were named in 2015 as NASA’s “commercial crew cadre” and have beenworking with Boeing and SpaceX on the development of the spacecraft and thesimulators that will be used to train astronauts to fly.

The two companies have alsodeveloped new spacesuits, modified their launch pads and established missioncontrol teams to support the upcoming flights.

With the start of four-personcommercial missions, the International Space Station crew is slated to grow byone to a seven-person residency in order to maximize the science that can beconducted on board.

Boeing’s and SpaceX’scommercial spacecraft may also open the space station — and more broadly, earthorbit — to more privately-funded visitors and spaceflight participants fromcountries that do not have their own domestic crewed spacecraft and rockets.