Sometime in the near future, the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will bring astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), resuming the long legacy of American-made spacecraft bringing humans into space for the first time since the shuttle program was nixed in 2011.
And now we know the exemplary men and women who will be piloting these pioneering flights. Today, NASA announced the nine crew members who have been selected for the upcoming test launches and first missions of the Starliner and Crew Dragon, spacecraft that were developed alongside the government agency as part of its Commercial Crew program.
“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.”
The roster for the Starliner test flights – slated to begin next year after an engine anomaly that occurred during an ignition test in June pushed back the schedule – includes three astronauts. These are Eric Boe, a pilot of the space shuttles Endeavour and Discovery, Christopher Ferguson, a formerly retired commander on Endeavor and the shuttle Atlantis who has since worked with Boeing, and Nicole Aunapu Mann, a seasoned Marine Corps F/A-18 test pilot who has not yet been to space.
John Cassada, an experienced Naval commander test pilot but space newbie, and Sunita Williams, a commander during two ISS expeditions, were chosen for the Boeing’s spacecraft’s first missions docking with the station.
Crew Dragon test launches will be manned by Robert Behnken, an engineering PhD with two Endeavour missions under his belt, and Doulas Hurley, another Endeavour and Atlantis piloting alum. According to The Verge, an unmanned launch of the SpaceX craft – a cargo capsule modified to carry crew that is flown atop a Falcon 9 rocket – is planned to depart from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida later this year. If everything goes to plan, a flight crewed by these two men will take off in April 2019.
The astronauts for Crew Dragon’s first mission will be Victor Glover, a Navy pilot commander and first-time space-goer, and Michael Hopkins, a flight test engineer who spent 166 days onboard the ISS.
When addressing the astronauts assembled on stage during the announcement, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “I hope all of you understand the excitement. It’s not just the people in this audience. It’s Americans all across this country that are ready to start flying in space again. And we’re so grateful you’re willing to step up and accomplish the job.”