NASA to announce new astronaut class on Friday

Astronauts from left to right Victor Glover Michael Hopkins Robert Behnken Douglas Hurley Nicole Mann Christopher Ferguson Eric Boe Josh Cassada and Sunita Williams give a thumbs up to the crowd after NASA announced them as astronauts assigned

"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", Mr. Bridenstine said. NASA says this was actually not a requirement for certifying the vehicles, but both companies opted to perform end-to-end flight tests to ensure the entire integrated system worked properly.

"This is a big deal for our country and we want America to know that we are back, that we are flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said as he unveiled the crew members in Houston, Texas. 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.

Additional crew members will be assigned by NASA's worldwide partners at a later date.

Hopkins had previously spent 166 days on the International Space Station, and conducted two spacewalks.

NASA has announced the names of the astronauts who will be the first people in history to ride to orbit in private space taxis next year, if all goes as planned.

The first flight of SpaceX's Crew Dragon is expected in April 2019, following an unmanned test in November, NASA said. Ferguson is the veteran of three space shuttle missions.

NASA contracted both companies to shuttle astronauts to and from the International Space Station following the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011. NASA astronauts Eric Boe and Nicole Aunapu Mann are slated for the test flight of Boeing's Starliner, accompanied by former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson, who now works as a commercial astronaut for Boeing.

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It is on the subsequent missions that the crew capsules will head to the space station and dock.

The aerospace company calls him the first "corporate astronaut".

Boeing plans to do an uncrewed flight test of its CST-100 Starliner later this year or early next year. He was a test pilot and colonel in the Marine Corps before coming to NASA in 2000 to become an astronaut.

NASA seems confident these dates will hold, and that the commercial crew program is finally on the home stretch. He will be joined by Victor Glover, a Navy commander who will be making his first trip into space. She has logged 322 days in space.

All of the nine astronauts are now taking questions in a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" session that started shortly after the announcement.

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.

From left to right: Astronauts Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, Robert Behnken, Douglas Hurley, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Eric Boe, Josh Cassada, and Sunita Williams gave a thumbs up to the crowd.

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