American astronaut Sunita Williams has been named among nine astronauts who will fly to the International Space Station on the first U.S-made commercial spacecraft.
The astronauts will fly into space on Boeing and Space X vehicles in 2019, making it NASA’s first human spaceflight program since the retirement of space shuttle in 2011.
The American space agency said on Aug. 3 that the astronauts will crew the first test flight and mission of both Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. NASA has worked closely with the companies throughout design, development and testing to ensure the systems meet its safety and performance requirements.
“The men and women we assign to these first flights are at the forefront of this exciting new time for human spaceflight,” Mark Geyer, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said in a statement. “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.”
After the ending of space shuttle program in 2011, NASA astronauts were travelling to the ISS aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.
“We are on the brink of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” NASA posted on Twitter, quoting Administrator Jim Bridenstine during the Launch America announcement.
“This is a big deal for our country and we want America to know that we are back, that we are flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” Bridenstine said in Houston.
U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed the news, and tweeted, “ NASA, which is making a BIG comeback under the Trump Administration, has just named 9 astronauts for Boeing and SpaceX space flights. We have the greatest facilities in the world and we are now letting the private sector pay to use them. Exciting things happening. Space Force!”
An unmanned Boeing flight test is scheduled for later this year, while the first flight with the crew is expected to take place in mid-2019, NASA said.
The names announced by NASA include some very experienced astronauts along with first timers.
Sunita Williams, the 52-year-old Indian-origin astronaut, will fly on Starliner’s first mission with Josh Cassada. It will be first spaceflight for 45-year-old Cassada while Williams has the experience of two stays at the ISS.
Williams was born in Euclid, Ohio, but considers Needham, Massachusetts, her hometown. She came to NASA from the U.S. navy, where she was a test pilot and retired from the rank of captain. She was selected as an astronaut in 1998, and went on spend 322 days aboard the ISS, commanded the space station and performed seven spacewalks.
NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, 48, and Douglas Hurley, 51, will fly together as SpaceX’s first Crew Dragon crew.
The Starliner test flight astronauts named by the agency are Eric Boe, Christopher Ferguson, and Nicole Aunapu Mann, while the Crew Dragon test flight astronauts would be Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley.