NASA assigns astronauts to first commercial crew missions

NASA is naming 8 astronauts to fly SpaceX and Boeing's new spaceships - here's how to watch the announcement live

On Friday, NASA plans to announce the eight astronauts who will fly either SpaceX's Crew Dragon or Boeing's CST-100 Starliner ships for the first time.

"SpaceX is targeting November 2018 for Crew Dragon's first demonstration mission and April 2019 for Crew Dragon's second demonstration mission, which will carry two NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station", said Benji Reed, director of Crew Mission Management at SpaceX, in the statement.

"This is a big deal for our country, and we want America to know we're back".

The astronauts were divided into smaller crews assigned to work on test flights and first missions to the worldwide space station.

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This crew is made up of three astronauts: Eric Boe, who was the pilot of the space shuttle Endeavor; Chris Ferguson, who took part in the last launch; and rookie Nicole A. Mann.

Bridenstine also introduced the crews of the first missions to the International Space Station by each new craft, which will follow the test flights. American astronauts will be flying American built rockets into space from American soil.

SpaceX's Dragon capsule is released from the International Space Station's robotic arm Friday. Many spacecraft, including Crew Dragon and Starliner, use hypergolic propellant for abort engines because it ignites on contact and is a good choice for quickly blasting a crew capsule away from a failing rocket. He will be joined by veteran astronaut Suni Williams, who has spent more than 50 hours on spacewalks and ran the first marathon in space on board the ISS in 2007.

NASA has been paying billions of dollars to SpaceX and Boeing to develop the crew capsules to pick up where the shuttles left off, while also paying billions for cargo deliveries to the space station by SpaceX and Northrop Grumman.

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SpaceX did not give a reason for the delay of its first crewed test flight. Other crew members for the first flights are likely to include four astronauts selected back in 2015: Bob Behnken, Eric Boe, Doug Hurley and Sunita Williams. He flew on two flights of the space shuttle including the final mission, Atlantis's STS-135. Both vehicles were developed in cooperation with Nasa to deliver crew members to and from the orbiting laboratory. The race to get astronauts to the space station first is real; a US flag that flew on the first space shuttle flight in 1981 and the last shuttle flight in 2011, awaits the victor. This will be his first spaceflight.

US astronauts now take Russian capsules to the space station, with NASA paying as much as $82 million a seat. The space agency's current arrangement with Russian Federation for Soyuz seats is set to run out in January 2020, a date that has already been stretched by extending upcoming ISS expeditions beyond six months.

Boeing's Starliner will launch aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Victor Glover, 42, and Michael Hopkins, 49, will fly on the first operational mission of SpaceX's crewed Dragon. "I look forward, sir, to getting you down there at some point out in Hawthorne [SpaceX's California headquarters] and maybe you can sit next to us in the cockpit and go through flying the iPhone to dock to space station".

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