Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, DC, United States (4E) – NASA on Aug. 3 introduced to the world the first U.S. astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station (ISS).
The nine astronauts (seven men and two women) will be part of an endeavor that will return astronaut launches to U.S. soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle’s retirement in 2011. They will crew the first test flight and missions of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft.
The astronauts are: Sunita Williams, Commander Josh Cassada, Col. Eric Boe, Lt. Col. Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Douglas Hurley, Col. Robert Behnken, Col. Michael Hopkins and Commander Victor Glover. All of these men and women have served, or are still serving, with the United States Armed Forces.
Of this group, six have been in space before, mostly as part of the Space Shuttle program. The newbies are Commander Cassada, Lt. Col. Mann and Commander Glover. Only three of the astronauts are civilians: Williams (retired Navy); Ferguson (retired Navy) and Hurley (retired Marine).
The first flight of this new group is expected sometime in the spring or summer of 2019. SpaceX and Boeing aim for test flights of their spacecraft by the end of this year or early 2019.
“Today, our country’s dreams of greater achievements in space are within our grasp,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This accomplished group of American astronauts, flying on new spacecraft developed by our commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX, will launch a new era of human spaceflight. Today’s announcement advances our great American vision and strengthens the nation’s leadership in space.”
NASA has worked closely with SpaceX and Boeing throughout design, development and testing to ensure the systems meet NASA’s 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,” said Mark Geyer, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “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.”
Williams came to NASA from the Navy, where she was a test pilot and rose to the rank of captain before retiring. Since her selection as an astronaut in 1998, she has spent 322 days aboard the International Space Station for Expeditions 14/15 and Expeditions 32/33, commanded the space station and performed seven spacewalks.
Boe came to NASA from the U.S. Air Force where he was a fighter pilot and test pilot. He was selected an astronaut in 2000 and piloted space shuttle Endeavour for the STS-126 mission and Discovery on its final flight, STS-133.
Ferguson is a retired Navy captain who piloted Space Shuttle Atlantis for STS-115, and commanded shuttle Endeavour on STS-126 and Atlantis for the final flight of the Space Shuttle Program, STS-135. He retired from NASA in 2011 and has been an key part of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner program.
Mann is a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, and an F/A-18 test pilot with more than 2,500 flight hours in more than 25 aircraft. She was selected as an astronaut in 2013. This will be her first trip to space.
Behnken has a doctorate in engineering and is a flight test engineer and colonel in the Air Force. He joined the astronaut corps in 2000 and flew aboard space shuttle Endeavour twice, for the STS-123 and STS-130 missions. He has taken six spacewalks totaling more than 37 hours.
Hurley was a test pilot and colonel in the Marine Corps before coming to NASA in 2000 to become an astronaut. He piloted space shuttle Endeavor for STS-127 and Atlantis for STS-135, the final Space Shuttle mission.
Cassada is a Navy commander and test pilot with more than 3,500 flight hours in more than 40 aircraft. He was selected as an astronaut in 2013. This will be his first spaceflight.
Glover is a Navy commander, aviator and test pilot with almost 3,000 hours flying more than 40 different aircraft. He made 400 carrier landings and flew 24 combat missions. He was selected as part of the 2013 astronaut candidate class, and this will be his first spaceflight.
Hopkins is a Colonel in the Air Force, where he was a flight test engineer before being selected as a NASA astronaut in 2009. He has spent 166 days on the International Space Station for Expeditions 37/38, and conducted two spacewalks.
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