SCIENCE
08/03/2018 04:03 pm ET

NASA Announces New Crew For The Return Of Space Flights From American Soil

The nine-member team plans to begin test flights in 2019.

America, meet your new astronauts.

After a nearly decadelong hiatus, NASA plans to once again start launching piloted spacecraft from American soil, this time aboard two commercially developed vehicles, beginning in early to mid-2019. On Friday, the space agency introduced the nine-member team tasked with making the first flights.

The team is split into two parts, with each group specializing in one of the spacecraft: Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner or SpaceX’s Dragon.

NASA astronauts (from left) are: Suni Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Mann, Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Bob Be
NASA Commercial Crew Program
NASA astronauts (from left) are: Suni Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Mann, Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Bob Behnken, Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover.

Team Boeing consists of retired Air Force Col. Eric Boe, retired Navy Capt. Chris Ferguson and Marine Corps test pilot Nicole Mann, who will conduct the first Starliner flight test sometime in mid-2019. Two top Navy pilots, Josh Cassada and Suni Williams, will be on a subsequent Starliner flight ― considered the craft’s first mission

SpaceX’s four-member crew consists of Air Force flight test engineer Bob Behnken and retired Marine Corps test pilot Doug Hurley, tasked with the Dragon’s demo flight scheduled for April 2019; Dragon’s first mission will be flown by Navy test pilot Victor Glover and the Air Force’s Mike Hopkins.

Only seven astronauts in history have been the first to fly on a brand-new U.S. spacecraft.

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.”

“As a test pilot, it doesn’t get any better than this,” she added.

Gone are the days of the iconic yet bulky spacesuits. They are set to be replaced with new spacecraft-specific versions, touted as “lightweight” and “minimalistic” in marketing materials.

Boeing propulsion engineer Monica Hopkins climbs out of a mockup of the Starliner crew module, while wearing the craft's newl
The Washington Post via Getty Images
Boeing propulsion engineer Monica Hopkins climbs out of a mockup of the Starliner crew module, while wearing the craft's newly designed spacesuit.

No NASA astronaut has rocketed into space from American soil since July 8, 2011, when the space shuttle Atlantis took off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, laden with 28,000 pounds of supplies for the International Space Station.

The successful flight marked the scheduled end of the 30-year space shuttle program. NASA has been paying Russia for flights launched from remote Kazakhstan to the ISS ever since, banking on its Commercial Crew Program to develop a cheaper, reliable and safe American-based alternative.

CONVERSATIONS