American astronauts haven't launched from the US since 2011, and the first commercial company to make that happen first will undoubtedly receive accolades.
During the press announcement of the new astronaut assignments, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine asked two veteran astronauts to compare their new rides to the shuttles they flew more than seven years ago.
Nasa has named the astronauts who will fly the first missions into space on commercially provided rockets and capsules, starting next year.
But a Government Accountability Office report published last month raised alarm bells that the project is running behind schedule, and could miss key deadlines. However, NASA has only booked seats on the Russian craft up until November 2019.
Friday, NASA said that if unmanned test flights go smoothly, the group of nine astronauts will fly before then, on the first test flight and mission of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon.
Today, NASA moved another inch closer. At first, it seemed like a logical idea - private space enterprises are rapidly becoming all the rage in the United States and beyond, with more than one private company already planning their own space stations for the decades to come.
The space station's operational lifespan has already been extended to reach 2025, though the White House recently began discussing the idea of turning the aging station over to commercial investors who might be interested in continuing the ISS's run of maintaining a continuously manned presence in space for almost two decades.
The test flight astronauts on the Crew Dragon, both of whom joined NASA in 2000, will be Col. The US Air Force fighter pilot Colonel has also served as a test pilot.
Two companies have NASA contracts to provide flights to the ISS between 2019 and 2024: SpaceX and Boeing ba . Josh Cassada of the Navy, who will be making his first voyage into space. Williams previously logged 321 days in orbit on two stays aboard the space station, most recently returning to the Earth in 2012. This will be her first trip to space.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL - JUNE 19: Chris Ferguson, Boeing director of Starliner Crew and Mission Systems and former NASA astronaut, along with NASA astronaut Suni Williams, practice the emergency egress system training from the Crew access tower at Launch Complex 41 at Kennedy Space Center. It would be the first space trip for Mann.
The Starliner will launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, and the Dragon will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center about 10 miles away. "To meet NASA's requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station".
Currently, NASA pays between $3 and $4 billion every year to maintain the operational capacity of the ISS, and the costs associated with keeping things running smoothly will only continue to grow as the systems on board get older. NASA officials have said it is critical to understanding the challenges of long-duration spaceflight and necessary for a sustainable presence on the Moon and for deep-space missions, including to Mars.
But NASA's options may be limited by the global agreements that established the station in 1998.