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NASA to announce new astronaut class on Friday

03 August 2018

The five astronauts assigned to the first flights gathered Friday at Johnson Space Center in Houston for the announcement.

NASA's partners on the International Space Station program - the Russian space agency Roscosmos, the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency - are expected to assign members of their own astronaut corps to the CST-100 and Crew Dragon crew rotation flights.

"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", said the official blog. Additional crew members will be assigned by NASA's global partners in the space station at a later date, the agency said.

In 2014, SpaceX and Boeing received contracts for $2.6 billion and $4.2 billion, respectively, to develop so-called space taxis that can ferry astronauts to and from the space station. - Alan Shepard, John Young are some of America's first explorers into the great unknown, but Friday NASA will announce who will be America's next space pioneers. The astronauts are (L to R): Victor Glover, Robert Behnken, Michael Hopkins, Douglas Hurley, Eric Boe, Sunita Williams, Christopher Ferguson, Josh Cassada, and Nicole Mann.

It may also include Russia, as NASA officials have discussed in the past flying Russian cosmonauts on commercial crew vehicles, possibly in exchange for seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The chosen astronauts will be the first to conduct flight tests and missions on the Boeing Starliner and Space X crew dragon. American astronauts will be flying American built rockets into space from American soil.

Former shuttle commander Chris Ferguson, who helmed the final flight of the shuttle Atlantis in 2011, will lead a three-person crew on the first piloted mission of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule.

Prior to their maiden crewed missions, both Boeing and SpaceX plan uncrewed test flights in late 2018 or early 2019. "Each test flight will provide data on the performance of the rockets, spacecraft, ground systems, and operations to ensure the systems are safe to fly astronauts", explained NASA in the statement.

The announcement can be seen on NASA TV and streamed on NASA's Facebook.

"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.

If those flights are successful, the companies will be certified by NASA for crew rotation missions. What is not known is who gets to fly on which company's spacecraft, and on which flight they get to launch. Since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011, the US has been relying on Russian Soyuz rockets, launched from Kazakhstan, to get astronauts to the ISS. The cargo missions started in 2012. Cassada is a rookie astronaut selected in 2013, while Williams, the fourth astronaut selected for commercial crew training, has spent 322 days in space on two long-duration station missions.

NASA to announce new astronaut class on Friday