NASA Announces Crews for Private 'Space Taxi' Project

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The astronauts assigned to crew the first flight tests and missions of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon give a thumbs-up upon introduction at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, Aug. 3, 2018.

"Today, our country's dreams of greater achievements in space are within our grasp", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

The U.S. space agency NASA on Friday introduced the nine astronauts who will ride the first commercial space capsules into orbit next year.

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.

A report issued last month by a U.S. government auditor said Boeing and SpaceX are unlikely to be able to send astronauts to the ISS next year, resulting in a possible gap in the United States presence on the spacecraft. She has spent a grand total of 322 days in space including a stint commanding the space station and performing seven spacewalks.

As for the SpaceX Crew Dragon test flight, that will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Ferguson now works for Boeing and is poised to become the first-ever private company astronaut.

Besides Ferguson and Mann, the initial commercial crew members are: Eric Boe, Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada riding on Boeing. Since the last shuttle flight, NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to carry its astronauts to the International Space Station. While both companies had recently said they would conduct their first test flights with astronauts on board by the end of this year, those flights are now scheduled for 2019.

Space X's Dragon will be tested by Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, and Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins will be on the crew for that mission.

The hope is that the new crew pods will be certified before NASA's contract with Russian Federation expires, so that US astronauts will continue to have a ride to work.

Plans will be for NASA to send four astronauts up to the station on each mission, one more than the current three-person crews. He began his career at NASA in 2000 and piloted two space shuttle missions, one on Endeavor in 2009 and the final shuttle mission on Atlantis in 2011.

"I'm sure that there is at least one Russian language instructor out there who thinks that having me fly a USA vehicle is not a bad idea", Cassada said.

For Crew Dragon, the now confirmed crew includes Navy commander, aviator, and test pilot Victor Glover. SpaceX aims to launch an uncrewed test flight in November of this year, with a Boeing test flight scheduled for late 2018 or early 2019.

NASA says commercial transportation to and from the space stations will enable expanded station use, additional research time and broader opportunities of discovery aboard the orbiting laboratory.

"Both contractors have said that their schedules are aggressive and they set ambitious-rather than realistic-dates, only to frequently delay them", says Cristina Chaplain, the GAO director who provides oversight for NASA, including the Commercial Crew program.

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