Sunita Williams, 8 others to fly on Boeing, SpaceX spacecraft

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Sunita Williams, 8 others to fly on Boeing, SpaceX spacecraft

NASA has assigned the astronauts who will ride the first commercial capsules into orbit next year and bring human launches back to the U.S.

The return of crew flights to USA soil will end NASA's politically inconvenient reliance on Russian Federation for transporting astronauts to the ISS. Boeing's first operational mission to the space station will mark his first time in space.

"For the first time since 2011, we are on the brink of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil, " said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who introduced the astronauts at Johnson Space Center in Houston in Friday.

The two missions from SpaceX and Boeing will be the first to launch from the US since NASA's last space shuttle launched, in 2011.

In 2015, NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams were assigned to the commercial crew program to provide the astronaut's perspective during commercial crew development.

No NASA astronaut has rocketed into space from American soil since July 8, 2011, when the space shuttle Atlantis took off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, laden with 28,000 pounds of supplies for the International Space Station.

"It's absolutely an opportunity of a lifetime", said Mann, who was selected as an astronaut in 2013.

Williams has spent 322 days aboard the International Space Station since becoming an astronaut in 1998.

If those flights are successful, the companies will be certified by NASA for crew rotation missions.

The first SpaceX Crew Dragon flight to the space station will include NASA astronaut and Navy test pilot Victor Glover, who has logged more than 3,000 hours flying 40 different aircraft and NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, who has logged 166 days in space so far. "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". SpaceX is targeting November for its inaugural Crew Dragon test flight, but Boeing won't launch its passenger spacecraft Starliner until late this year or early next.

NASA's Commercial Crew Program is facilitating the development of a USA commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit. Both SpaceX and Boeing were supposed to clear this hurdle a year ago, but Boeing is now likely to win certification in January, with SpaceX following it the next month. NASA officials have said it is critical to understanding the challenges of long-duration spaceflight and necessary for a sustainable presence on the Moon and for deep-space missions, including to Mars.

A series of thruster firings propelled the Dragon capsule away from the space station, and the ship's Draco thrusters ignited at 5:23 p.m. EDT (2123 GMT) for a de-orbit burn.

Since 2010, that program has inched along, moving ever-closer to crewed and uncrewed test flights.

Non-astronaut William Seely, the U.S. Marine Corps director of communication (public affairs), made sure to offer his support and congratulations to NASA astronaut Nicole Mann. Flights without any people are expected before the end of 2018, followed by two crewed missions sometime in 2019. He then added that it looked the launch date was finally approaching, and that the mission would actually happen.

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