NASA assigns astronauts to first commercial crew missions

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NASA says astronaut Josh Cassada will fly alongside Williams when the mission to the ISS launches.

NASA assigned nine astronauts to crew the first test flight and mission of both Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon. The delays could even result in a gap in USA access to the space station, because NASA has contracted for seats on Soyuz only through November 2019, the report found.

"We congratulate all the astronauts chosen to fly to the space station on commercially developed systems", added Caret, a two-time Wash100 recipient. He will be joined by veteran astronaut Suni Williams, who has spent more than 50 hours on spacewalks and ran the first marathon in space on board the ISS in 2007.

The first crew to be presented was that of the Boeing Starliner capsule, which will make a trial flight scheduled for mid-2019 and will be boosted into space from Florida's Kennedy Space Center by an Atlas V rocket of the United Launch Alliance.

NASA today laid out a newly stretched-out schedule for flying astronauts to the International Space Station from US soil, with SpaceX's first such flight set for no earlier than next April.

NASA's continuous presence on the space station for nearly 18 years has enabled technology demonstrations and research in biology and biotechnology, Earth and space science, human health, physical sciences. SpaceX will launch the Crew Dragon, while Boeing will launch its CST-100 Starliner.

At a press conference Friday, Williams said she is excited to use Boeing's craft on the worldwide stage and to help prepare for NASA's future space projects. On Friday, the space agency introduced the nine-member team tasked with making the first flights.

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Sunita Williams, a veteran astronaut with roots in Needham, is going back into space. He flew on a Space Shuttle Endeavour mission in 2008 and a Space Shuttle Discovery mission in 2011. NASA's last space shuttle mission, the STS-135 flight coincidently commanded by Boeing's Ferguson, flew in July 2011.

The Starliner's long-duration operational mission will be crewed by John Cassada, a Navy commander and experienced test pilot. It won't be the first time SpaceX trounces Boeing. 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 goal is to have safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and foster commercial access to other potential low-Earth orbit destinations", NASA said. "Both partners said they really wanted to have an uncrewed flight test to make sure the integrated rockets, spacecraft and re-entry systems are all working as created to be able to ensure the integrated system is functioning".

"To meet NASA's requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station...."

For the missions to be successful, both capsules will have to launch, travel safely to the International Space Station (ISS), dock and undock autonomously and then safely bring the crews back to Earth.

Glover, a former Navy commander and test pilot, was also among the 2013 astronaut class.

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