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NASA announces astronauts for first commercial spaceflights from U.S.

NASA announces astronauts for first commercial spaceflights from U.S.

NASA has announced what it said will be a new era in us space exploration, naming a group of nine astronauts charged with launching into space on private rockets from the United States.

Sunita Williams, the 52-year-old Indian-origin astronaut, will fly on Starliner's first mission with Josh Cassada.

The missions have an eminent role to play as they will become the first crewed launches from the USA land since the space shuttle programme concluded in 2011.

The SpaceX crewed test flight, now scheduled for April 2019, will be flown by NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley.

SpaceX and Boeing are shooting for a test flight of their capsules by the end of this year or early next, with the first crews flying from Cape Canaveral, Florida, by next spring or summer.

According to NASA website, Williams - a veteran of two space mission expeditions - is now training for the first post-certification mission of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft - the second crewed flight for that vehicle - and her third long duration mission aboard the International Space Station.

The astronauts will fly on two new spacecraft, the Starliner and Crew Dragon, which are being developed by Boeing and Elon Musk's SpaceX, respectively, as part of NASA's commercial crew program.

Plans will be for NASA to send four astronauts up to the station on each mission, one more than the current three-person crews.

An unmanned Boeing flight test is scheduled for later this year, with the first crew on board in mid-2019, NASA said.

The space agency says each post-certification flight by the CST-100 Starliner and Crew Dragon spacecraft will carry four passengers on half-year expeditions to the space station.

"Both contractors have said that their schedules are aggressive and they set ambitious-rather than realistic-dates, only to frequently delay them", says Cristina Chaplain, the GAO director who provides oversight for NASA, including the Commercial Crew program.

Flying on the regular mission will be Victor Glover, a Navy commander will make his first spaceflight after becoming an astronaut in 2013 and Michael Hopkins, a former colonel in the Air Force who became an astronaut in 2009.

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

Ferguson isn't now a NASA employee, though he served as an astronaut from 1998 to 2011 and commanded the final Space Shuttle mission. This was the same Florida launch pad where the space shuttle left Earth for the last time in July 2011 with Hurley as a pilot. At the time, test flights were expected to be just around the corner, and the agency pledged to be rid of Russian reliance in 2017.

Once the Starliner and Dragon capsules are operational, NASA will no longer need to rely on Russia's Soyuz rocket and spacecraft to launch astronauts into low-Earth orbit. Josh Cassada of the Navy, who will be making his first voyage into space.

In this illustration, a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft approaches the International Space Station for docking.

"I'm sure that there is at least one Russian language instructor out there who thinks that having me fly a USA vehicle is not a bad idea", Cassada said.

Suni Williams: Williams was chosen as an astronaut in 1998 after a career in the Navy.

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