NASA, Boeing, SpaceX to Launch ‘New Era in Human Spaceflight’
NASA officials assign crews to first test flights and missions on commercial spacecraft.
Astronaut launches will return to U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011. NASA officials have named the first U.S. astronauts who will fly on American-made, International Space Station (ISS). Space agency officials have assigned nine astronauts to crew the first test flight and mission of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner crew capsule, developed in collaboration with Bigelow Aerospace in Las Vegas, and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.
“Today, our country’s dreams of greater achievements in space are within our grasp,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a ceremony introducing the astronauts scheduled for this historic mission. “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 the companies throughout design, development, and testing to ensure the systems meet NASA’s safety and performance requirements . Specifically, NASA's Commercial Crew Program has worked with several American aerospace industry companies to facilitate the development of U.S. human spaceflight systems since 2010. The goal is to have safe, reliable, and cost-effective access to and from the ISS and foster commercial access to other potential low Earth orbit (LEO) destinations.
The public-private partnerships fostered by the program will stimulate growth in a robust commercial space industry and spark life-changing innovations for future generations.
NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX in September 2014 to transport crew to the International Space Station from the United States. These integrated spacecraft, rockets, and associated systems will carry up to four astronauts on NASA missions, maintaining a space station crew of seven to maximize time dedicated to scientific research on the orbiting laboratory.
NASA will begin the final process of certifying that spacecraft and systems for regular crew missions to the space station after each company successfully completes its crewed test flight. The agency has contracted six missions, with as many as four astronauts per mission, for each company.
The new spaceflight capability provided by Boeing and SpaceX will allow NASA to maintain a crew of seven astronauts on the space station, maximizing scientific research that leads to breakthroughs and also aids in understanding and mitigating the challenges of long-duration spaceflight.
NASA’s presence on the space station for almost 18 years has enabled technology demonstrations and research in biology and biotechnology, Earth and space science, human health, and physical sciences, officials say. This research has led to dramatic improvements in technology, infrastructure, and medicine, and thousands of spinoff technologies that have improved quality of life here on Earth, they add.
“The men and women we assign to these first flights are at the forefront of this exciting new time for human spaceflight,” says 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.”
Starliner test flight astronauts
Eric Boe was born in Miami and grew up in Atlanta. He came to NASA from the Air Force, where he was a fighter pilot and test pilot and rose to the rank of colonel. He was selected as an astronaut in 2000 and piloted space shuttle Endeavour for the STS-126 mission and Discovery on its final flight, STS-133.
Christopher Ferguson is a native of Philadelphia. He 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 integral part of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner program.
Nicole Aunapu Mann is a California native and a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps. She is an F/A-18 test pilot with more than 2,500 flight hours in more than 25 aircraft. Mann was selected as an astronaut in 2013. This will be her first trip to space.
Boeing’s Starliner will launch aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Crew Dragon test flight astronauts
Robert Behnken is from St. Ann, Missouri. He 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, during which he performed six spacewalks totaling more than 37 hours.
Douglas Hurley calls Apalachin, New York, his hometown. He 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.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Starliner first mission astronauts
Josh Cassada grew up in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. He 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.
Sunita Williams was born in Euclid, Ohio, but considers Needham, Massachusetts, her hometown. 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.
Crew Dragon first mission astronauts
Victor Glover is from Pomona, California. He 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.
Michael Hopkins was born in Lebanon, Missouri, and grew up on a farm near Richland, Missouri. He 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.
Additional crew members will be assigned by NASA’s international partners at a later date.
Courtney E. Howard is editorial director and content strategist at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group. Contact her by e-mail at