Blend of novices, veterans to fly on first private U.S. spaceships

Starliner and Crew Dragon

"Space has transformed the American way of life", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during the event. "Today's announcement advances our great American vision and strengthens the nation's leadership in space".

Friday, NASA said that if unmanned test flights go smoothly, the group of nine astronauts will fly before then, on the first test flight and mission of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon.

Both the SpaceX Crew Dragon and the Boeing Starliner are created to take over this task and provide ISS rides to NASA astronauts via a "space taxi" service.

It has been widely reported in the media worldwide that Nasa pays more than $70 million per seat to Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency, to send its astronaut to the ISS using their spacecraft.

"NASA's Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to USA soil, providing safe, reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety and mission requirements", read the agency's statement.

"It will be thrilling to see our astronauts lift off from American soil, and we can't wait to see them aboard the ISS", he added.

SpaceX will launch from Kennedy Space Center on board Falcon 9 rockets while Boeing will send its crew capsule up from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop United Launch Alliance Atlas V rockets. On Monday, CEO Elon Musk confirmed a report that claimed NASA estimates the firm will be ready for people-carrying space adventures as early as April next year. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley would fly on the first human test flight of SpaceX's Dragon capsule. It will be the third trip to space for both Behnken and Hurley.

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Sunita Williams, the 52-year-old Indian-origin astronaut, will fly on Starliner's first mission with Josh Cassada. Between the end of the space shuttle program and the start of commercial crew operations, NASA's crew members have and are continuing to launch to the space station on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

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

President Donald Trump fired off a celebratory tweet today to laud NASA's first astronaut crews to fly on private spacecraft built by Boeing and SpaceX, a message that also appeared to hail the president's proposed military Space Force. He is a colonel in the Air Force, where he was a flight test engineer before being selected as a NASA astronaut in 2009.

"I'm sure there's at least one Russian-language instructor out there who thinks that having me fly in a US vehicle is not a awful idea", quipped Cassada. He's spent almost 29 days in space.

Glover, a former Navy commander and test pilot, was also among the 2013 astronaut class. Originally, both companies were contractually bound to meet all of NASA's requirements in 2017. 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.

The two pairs of NASA crewmates will fly to the station with Russian cosmonauts and worldwide astronauts to be announced at a later date.

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