In making the July 9 commercial astronauts announcement, NASA said the move advances its space partnership with U.S. industry.
The space agency also noted the total reliance on Russia for manned space launches in recent years.
“I am pleased to announce four American space pioneers have been selected to be the first astronauts to train to fly to space on commercial crew vehicles, all part of our ambitious plan to return space launches to U.S. soil, create good-paying American jobs and advance our goal of sending humans farther into the solar system than ever before,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail — a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars.”
NASA named veteran astronauts and test pilots Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams (pictured) to work with Boeing and SpaceX to develop the crew transportation systems and provide crew transportation services to and from the International Space Station (ISS).
Said John Holdren, director of the White House’s office of science and technology policy: “Their selection allows NASA to move forward with the training necessary to deliver on President Obama’s ambitious plan for returning the launch of U.S. astronauts to U.S. soil, while creating good-paying American jobs, and moving us closer to the president’s goal of sending astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.”
The commercial crew astronauts will work closely with company-led teams finalizing the Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and operational strategies.
“This is a new and exciting era in the history of U.S. human spaceflight,” said Brian Kelly, director of flight operations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “The selection of these experienced astronauts who are eligible to fly aboard the test flights for the next generation of U.S. spacecraft to the ISS and low-Earth orbit ensures that the crews will be well-prepared and thoroughly trained for their missions.”
Once testing is done and the spacecrafts are certified by NASA, the companies will conduct two to six crew-rotation missions to the International Space Station, NASA said. Each mission will transport four NASA crewmembers and upward of 220.5 pounds of pressurized cargo to and from the ISS.
“Congratulations to Bob, Eric, Doug and Sunita and welcome to the Commercial Crew team,” said John Elbon, Boeing vp-general manager of space exploration.
“Human spaceflight is why SpaceX was founded, and we look forward to supporting our nation’s exploration efforts by launching astronauts from America again,” SpaceX President and Chief Operating Office Gwynne Shotwell said.