NASA announces new astronaut class

On the right, NASA astronauts conduct a fully-suited exercise in Boeing's CST-100 Starliner mock-up trainer in early May at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

NASA's partners on the International Space Station program - the Russian space agency Roscosmos, the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency - are expected to assign members of their own astronaut corps to the CST-100 and Crew Dragon crew rotation flights.

NASA announced Friday a mix of spaceflight veterans and rookie astronauts who will launch on the first flights of new Boeing and SpaceX commercial spaceships starting as soon as next spring, several months later than previously scheduled. However, a NASA spokesman said that does not guarantee those four astronauts will be assigned to an actual mission.

NASA has been paying billions of dollars to SpaceX and Boeing to develop the crew capsules to pick up where the shuttles left off, while also paying billions for cargo deliveries to the space station by SpaceX and Northrop Grumman.

"Space has transformed the American way of life", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during the event.

It may also include Russia, as NASA officials have discussed in the past flying Russian cosmonauts on commercial crew vehicles, possibly in exchange for seats on Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The astronauts assignments will be for both the test flights of Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon, which won't dock with the ISS, as well as the first post-certification missions for both private companies, which will head to the space station. (BA) to the punch when it comes to flying astronauts to the International Space Station.

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The timetable for the launches was supposed to have been for test flights to take place before the end of 2018, but both companies have faced technical issues that may delay that into 2019.

Former shuttle commander Chris Ferguson, who helmed the final flight of the shuttle Atlantis in 2011, will lead a three-person crew on the first piloted mission of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule. 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.

Two companies have NASA contracts to provide flights to the ISS between 2019 and 2024: SpaceX and Boeing (ba). Josh Cassada and Suni Williams will be the second crew for the Starliner and Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins will be the second crew for the Dragon.

The announcement can be seen on NASA TV and streamed on NASA's Facebook.

USA astronauts now take Russian capsules to the space station, with NASA paying as much as $82 million a seat.

When test flights do launch, Boeing's flight is dubbed Orbital Flight Test followed by Crew Flight Test. SpaceX's first flight is dubbed Demonstration Mission 1 followed by Demonstration Mission 2.

The commercial crew program will allow expanded use of the space station.

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