"For the first time since 2011, we are on the brink of launching American astronauts from American rockets on American soil", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a televised briefing on Friday. He was selected by NASA in 2009, and spent 166 days aboard the International Space Station during a mission that launched on a Russian rocket in 2013.
After successful completion of the flight tests with crew, NASA will review flight data to verify the systems meet the agency's safety and performance certification requirements. All have a military background.
"I'm just grateful to help usher in this new era of American spaceflight", Ferguson told the crowd.
"I'm sure that there is at least one Russian language instructor out there who thinks that having me fly a US vehicle is not a bad idea", Cassada said.
The eight active NASA astronauts and one former astronaut-turned-corporate crew member will launch on Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Dragoncapsules to the International Space Station beginning in 2019. Her first was a space shuttle mission that launched in 2007, and the second was a Soyuz-launched mission in 2012.
Last week, Boeing confirmed that it had a problem with its launch-abort system, which is created to ferry crews to safety in the event of an emergency. A recent abort test by Boeing resulted in leaking engine fuel.
"The first flight is something you dream about as a test pilot", said Hurley, who flew on the last shuttle mission. "But looks like it might".
"Oh, it better, " Bridenstine chimed in.
Georgia Tech graduate Eric Boe is going back to space.
ABOVE, via NASA: "The astronauts are, from left to right: Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Douglas Hurley, Robert Behnken, Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover". "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". Similarly, the first Starliner is being now being outfitted for launch at Kennedy Space Center, and the test flight's Atlas V Centaur upper stage-never flown in the dual-engine configuration-ships to Florida in August. Dragons, meanwhile, will fly on SpaceX's own Falcon 9 rockets. Boeing received a $4.2-billion contract, and SpaceX's was for $2.6 billion.
The group likened piloting a modern spaceship to driving an iPhone, with only a few switches compared to the 3,000 in the old shuttle cockpit. The uncrewed test is planned for November; the test flight with crew aboard is set for April 2019.
Ferguson noted he's been involved with the Boeing capsule since the beginning.
"Once you get into the spacecraft, you're on your way, you've got a mission, you're focused, and it's really exciting", she said. Both Boeing and SpaceX have issues to work out before they can complete their first crewed flights; the 2019 dates are targets and may be optimistic ones at that.
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