Nasa has named the astronauts who will fly the first missions into space on commercially provided rockets and capsules, starting next year.
The nine individuals will go up on systems developed by – and contracted from – the Boeing and SpaceX firms.
Most have previous experience in orbit. Among them are the commander and pilot of the final shuttle mission in 2011.
For the past seven years, Russian rockets have been the only way to get people into orbit.
Nasa Administrator Jim Bridenstine introduced the astronauts during a ceremony at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
“For the first time since 2011, we are on the brink of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” he told the enthusiastic audience.
The commander on the historic last shuttle mission, Chris Ferguson, is now a Boeing employee and has been heavily involved in developing the company’s CST-100 Starliner capsule.
Boe is a former shuttle pilot; Mann will be making her first trip into space.
The SpaceX Dragon capsule, on current timelines, is set to make its maiden crewed flight in April. It will ride atop a Falcon-9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center. It will actually use one of the old shuttle pads, although this has now been modified for the smaller Falcon.
The demonstration flights by Boeing and SpaceX will spend a short period in orbit before coming straight back to Earth.
It is on the subsequent missions that the crew capsules will head to the space station and dock. And Nasa also named the astronauts for those flights as well.
The first Boeing trip to the orbiting outpost includes Josh Cassada, who has never been in space before, and Suni Williams, who is one of the most experienced American astronauts in history, having spent a cumulative 321 days in orbit through her career.
Nasa took the decision after the shuttle retired to turn transportation to low-Earth obit destinations into a service that it could buy. It has given seed money to SpaceX and Boeing to incentivise them, but the companies themselves have also had to invest their own money.
Nasa’s motivation was to save money it could then spend on a rocket and capsule system to take humans back to the Moon and on to Mars.
That system will likely fly some time early next decade.
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