NASA announced on Friday the astronauts who will crew the Boeing and SpaceX spacecraft, the first time Americans will return to space in hopes of reaching the International Space Station from Florida's Space Coast since 2011.
"Safely and reliably flying commercial crew missions for NASA remains the highest priority for SpaceX", Benji Reed, SpaceX's director of crew mission management, said in a statement.
The space agency has partnered with Boeing and SpaceX to develop the Starliner spacecraft to launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and the Crew Dragon launching atop the Falcon 9 rocket, respectively.
The announcement happened Friday morning at the Johnson Space Center.
Astronauts, from left to right, Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, Robert Behnken, Douglas Hurley, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Eric Boe, Josh Cassada and Sunita Williams.
The Starliner spacecraft is being outfitted at the Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, according to NASA.
NASA officials didn't state why a three-person crew would be flying on the Starliner test flight, but the agency announced an agreement earlier this year with Boeing to study turning that crewed test flight into an operational mission in the event of further commercial crew delays. The probe, which will travel directly into the Sun's atmosphere, will blast off aboard a ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
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Boeing's first Starliner crew will include a former NASA astronaut who commanded the last shuttle flight in 2011, Chris Ferguson, who is now a Boeing employee. Boeing most recently suffered a problem while testing its emergency abort system and its first test flight has been delayed until at least mid-2019.
"This is truly an exciting time for human spaceflight in our nation, and believe me, it's only going to get better as we charge off into the future", said Bob Cabana, a former shuttle commander who now heads Kennedy Space Center.
During the manned tests, the astronauts will be able to use the displays inside the spacecraft, communicate with mission control and practise manual controls during flight. Once they receive the certification, NASA expects the companies to launch as many as six crews to the International Space Station.
SpaceX, however, did move up the uncrewed test flight of its Dragon spacecraft from December to November of this year.
NASA TV is broadcasting video of the announcement live from Texas.
NASA has been collaborating with commercial space companies for years, with the goal of having the private sector take over "routine" trips to the space station and low Earth orbit.
The first test flight for SpaceX and Boeing will be known as Demo-1 and Orbital Flight Test, respectively.