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

NASA assigns astronauts to first commercial crew missions

"For the first time since 2011, we are on the brink of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil". NASA director Jim Bridenstine says the agency has spent billions of dollars a year to reach this stage and there is no turning back.

Lawmakers in Congress, however, insisted that NASA still needed to develop its own rocket and space capsule, called the Space Launch System.

The agency assigned nine astronauts to crew the first test flight and mission of both Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon.

Assignments for the crew flight tests and the first post-certification missions will be revealed during an event that kicks off at 11 a.m. EDT at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

On the first human test flight of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft, NASA selected astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Mann to join Boeing executive Chris Ferguson.

This undated photo made available by NASA on Friday, Aug. 3, 2018 shows, from left, Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Douglas Hurley, Robert Behnken, Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover standing in front of BoeingÂs CST-100 Starliner and SpaceXÂs Crew Dragon capsules at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

On the first operational mission to the International Space Station, Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada would fly for Boeing.

All the astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) have been taken there on Russian Soyuz spacecraft since the retirement of the American shuttle in 2011. According to Bloomberg, NASA will name the astronauts that will fly on the tests on Friday.

NASA has spent billions developing the Space Launch System and its first flight, scheduled for 2020, will send an uncrewed capsule around the moon and back. What is not known is who gets to fly on which company's spacecraft, and on which flight they get to launch. And it's now apparent that SpaceX is slightly ahead-it will conduct a crewed test flight in April of next year, while Boeing's crewed test is only scheduled for "mid-2019". 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.

NASA's continuous presence on the space station for nearly 18 years has enabled technology demonstrations and research in biology and biotechnology, Earth and space science, human health, physical sciences.

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.

The two pairs of Nasa crewmates will fly to the station with Russian cosmonauts and global astronauts to be announced at a later date. They're both the result of NASA's Commercial Crew Program: a almost 10-year-long, $8-billion effort to maintain access to orbit for U.S. astronauts. He then added that it looked the launch date was finally approaching, and that the mission would actually happen.

When approved, each company is slated for six missions to the space station between 2019 and 2024, a total of 12 missions between the two companies.

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