Nine astronauts were named to ride the SpaceX Dragon and Boeing Starliner capsules - five on the first crew flights and four on the second round of missions to the International Space Station. It now looks like SpaceX will be the first to launch humans on its crew Dragon spacecraft, set for April 2019.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine announced eight current NASA astronauts, several of whom have been to space before, as well as bringing a ninth former astronaut who now works for Boeing on stage. The first tests flights are expected to take place within the next few months, into early next year. "Today's announcement advances our great American vision and strengthens the nation's leadership in space". And Nasa also named the astronauts for those flights as well. He flew on two flights of the space shuttle including the final mission, Atlantis's STS-135.
USA astronauts now ride on Russian capsules to the space station.
SpaceX's Crew Dragon will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Since then, NASA has been dependent on Russia's Soyuz rockets and spacecraft, paying upward of $70 million per seat to fly Americans to and from the ISS.
Astronaut Doug Hurley, who will be on the Space X test flight, hinted at the delays when he noted at Friday's Johnson Space Center announcement: "The first flight is something you dream about as a test pilot, and you don't think it's ever going to happen to you". The astronauts are (L to R): Victor Glover, Robert Behnken, Michael Hopkins, Douglas Hurley, Eric Boe, Sunita Williams, Christopher Ferguson, Josh Cassada, and Nicole Mann.
VICE News spoke with Dennis Stone, one of the founding members of NASA's commercial investment program, to hear the story behind the agency's success in backing private spaceflight.
Their voyages are scheduled to begin next year, and they would be the first American astronauts to launch from US soil since 2011. Eric Boe, retired Navy Capt.
The astronauts assigned to the Starliner's first mission are Sunita Williams, who retired as a Navy captain, and Cmdr. That is why in 2010 NASA started accepting proposals from commercial companies that were making astronaut transportation systems. She has spent a grand total of 322 days in space including a stint commanding the space station and performing seven spacewalks.
Boeing's and SpaceX's commercial spacecraft may also open the space station - and more broadly, Earth orbit - to more privately-funded visitors and spaceflight participants from countries that do not have their own domestic crewed spacecraft and rockets.
Astronauts come from the ranks of test pilots, so Ferguson said it became a natural step for him to aim for NASA, which he joined in 1998. NASA had originally expected the companies to have their spacecraft ready for missions to the International Space Station by the end of a year ago, but neither were able to meet that target. He is a Navy commander and test pilot with more than 3,500 flight hours in more than 40 aircraft.