HOUSTON — NASA has announced who will be America's next space pioneers to launch from U.S. soil.
- NASA has contracted Boeing, SpaceX for various missions
- Space agency announces astronauts who will be aboard missions
- RELATED: NASA unveils crew test flight target dates
The first crews to fly on commercial spacecraft to the International Space Station were announced Friday morning from Johnson Space Center in Houston.
They'll be the first astronauts to launch from America -- specifically, Florida's Space Coast -- since the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011.
Unmanned Boeing and SpaceX missions are set for later this year or early next year. But the real deal comes when Americans fly again on those companies' Starliner CST-100 and Dragon capsules -- all part of NASA's commercial crew program.
Three test missions are planned each for both Boeing and Space X. Two crewed missions to the ISS are targeted for 2019.
Boeing Starliner test flight astronauts:
- Ret. Air Force Col. Eric Boe, a Miami native and former fighter and test pilot. He piloted space shuttle Endeavour and Discovery on its final flight.
- Ret. Navy Capt. Christopher Ferguson of Philadelphia, who piloted space shuttle Atlantis and commanded Endeavour and Atlantis.
- Marine Lt. Col. Nicole Aunapu Mann of California is an F/A-18 pilot who was selected as an astronaut in 2013.
The capsule will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
SpaceX Crew Dragon test flight astronauts:
- Air Force Col. Bob Behnken of Missouri has flown on space shuttle Endeavour twice. He's performed six spacewalks for a total of 37 hours.
- Ret. Marine Corps Col. Douglas Hurley of New York piloted Endeavour and Atlantis on the final space shuttle mission.
The capsule will launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center.
Boeing Starliner first mission astronauts:
- Navy Cmdr. Josh Cassada of Minnesota was selected as an astronaut in 2013. This would be his first spaceflight.
- Ret. Navy Capt. Sunita Williams of Massachusetts is a veteran International Space Station astronaut. She's spent more than 320 days aboard the station and has previously served as its commander.
Crew Dragon first mission astronauts:
- Navy Cmdr. Victor Glover of California is a test pilot who has made more than 400 carrier landings and has flown 24 combat missions. He was picked to be an astronaut in 2013. This will be his first spaceflight.
- Air Force Col. Michael Hopkins of Missouri has spent 166 days aboard the ISS and has conducted two spacewalks.
"For the first time since 2011, we are on the brink of launching American astronauts, on American rockets, from American soil," new NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said.
Williams, Hurley, Behnken and Boe have spent the past three years working with Boeing and SpaceX on their commercial crew spaceships.
When NASA selected these four astronauts to train for commercial crew vehicles, they expressed their excitement for the future of manned flight.
"For astronauts getting ready to be assigned a flight, I really look towards the Swiss Army knife if you will. The person who could do a spacewalk, do some robotics, had a test background if that was required for the mission at hand, and so really looking for a crew member that touches all those bases was really critical going forward," Behnken said.
NASA says by Boeing and Space X providing this spaceflight capability, it will allow a constant seven member crew on board the ISS, maximizing research and working through the challenges of long duration space missions.
NASA's commercial crew program is a decade-long, $8 billion effort to get our astronauts back to orbit without reliance on Russians and their Soyuz rockets, which have ferried Americans to the ISS at a cost in the neighborhood of $70 million a seat.
Crew quarters makeover
Meanwhile, NASA crew quarters at Kennedy Space Center are getting a makeover.
The upgrades include new carpeting, furniture, appliances and a fresh coat of paint. New artwork representing Orion, Boeing and SpaceX will hang in the hallways.
The remodeling is expected to be completed by the middle of the month.
The area already features 23 bedrooms, each with a bathroom, kitchen and gym, among other amenities.