NASA announces astronauts for first commercial spaceflights from U.S.

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Since then, NASA has been dependent on Russia's Soyuz rockets and spacecraft, paying upward of $70 million per seat to fly Americans to and from the ISS.

Both spacecraft are now undergoing hardware tests, with final processing ahead as launch dates hover closer.

In a ceremony at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, the space agency revealed nine astronauts assigned to the first four crewed flights of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsules.

According to a statement released by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine during the announcement of "Launch America", they are on the verge of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil. "We're taking important steps for this nation and toward development of a thriving commercial space ecosystem". Boeing's Ferguson was pilot on STS-116 on board Space Shuttle Atlantis as well as commander of STS-126 on Space Shuttle Endeavour and the final flight of the space shuttle program, STS-135 on board Atlantis. Robert Behnken, a former Air Force colonel, will join former Marine Corps colonel Douglas Hurley on the Crew Dragon test flight. Mann's flight with Boeing will be her first to space.

At a press briefing Friday, Lt. Col. Mann called her maiden voyage aboard the Starliner the "opportunity of a lifetime", saying it's one that will "help usher in this new era of American spaceflight".

On Friday NASA announced the class of astronauts who will ride the first commercial capsules into orbit next year and bring human launches back to the U.S. Needham's Sunita Williams left will fly Boeing's Starliner capsule

"As a test pilot, it doesn't get any better than this", said Mann, a Naval aviator. "We take it seriously".

American astronauts haven't launched from the USA since 2011, and the first commercial company to make that happen first will undoubtedly receive accolades.

For Starliner, that will see Navy commander and test pilot Josh Cassada make his first spaceflight, joined by Sunita Williams, a former Navy test pilot and captain before joining NASA.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon will launch on the company's Falcon 9 rocket.

Glover and Cassada are spaceflight rookies.

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Born in September 19, 1965, Williams, who came to the NASA from the Navy of Indo-Slovian descent, wherein she was a test pilot, was selected as an astronaut in 1998.

Williams has already taken two trips to the space station, commanded it, and racked up 322 days in space, second on the all-time list for female astronauts. No female astronaut has logged more spacewalk time. "I'll tell you, being able to launch to the International Space Station from USA soil, I can't imagine better", Cassada said.

Since the shuttle was retired seven years ago, American astronauts have had to fly on Russian rockets from a remote launch site in Kazakhstan.

Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins, who has spent more than 160 days in space, were selected to crew SpaceX's first full mission. The first test flight of the programme is scheduled for mid-2019. The Boeing Company and SpaceX have developed the test flights and the missions of latest commercial spacecraft will be operated by them.

In this illustration, a Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft is shown in low-Earth orbit.

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The space agency has reason to be eager. In any case, SpaceX is now the presumed leader of the race to capture the flag left on the station by the final space shuttle crew-a flag that has been waiting to return to Earth for eight years and counting.

"This was above and beyond the NASA requirement in the contract", said NASA Kennedy Commercial Crew Program manager Kathy Lueders.

The spacecraft is expected to bring along more than 3,800 pounds of cargo.

Boeing has since identified the problem, he said, and is working to fix it.

If those flights are successful, the companies will be certified by NASA for crew rotation missions.

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"The first flight is something that you dream about as a test pilot and, you know, you don't think it's ever going to happen to you", he said.

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