Sunita Williams among 9 astronauts relaunching USA space travel

First flights for Boeing and SpaceX crew capsules are delayed again

NASA introduced to the world on Friday the first US astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station.

Only seven astronauts in history have been the first to fly on a brand-new USA spacecraft. 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.

NASA has named the astronauts chosen to fly on commercial spacecraft made by Boeing and SpaceX to and from the International Space Station, the research laboratory that orbits around Earth. The Crew Dragon will launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Eric Boe, Christopher Ferguson and Nicole Anapu Mann will work for Boeing's Starliner test flight while Josh Cassada and Sunita Williams will fly on the craft's first mission.

Chris Ferguson, a former NASA astronaut who has worked with Boeing as it developed its Starliner spacecraft, will fly as a private astronaut. Behnken, Boe and Hurley have each flown two shuttle missions, logging four weeks in space apiece. While some NASA astronauts are military officers, NASA itself is a civilian space exploration agency.

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On Friday, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine introduced the nine astronauts, who will fly on the first four crewed missions using the new craft.

The new commercial capsules will replace NASA's space shuttle program, which last flew in 2011.

"I'm just really excited we're going to be able to take these spacecraft and show them off to our global partners", Williams told the crowd. Boeing's spacecraft CST-100 Starliner is also expected to be reusable and will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

The Government Accountability Office recently issued a warning to NASA that it needs to have a contingency plan in place to ensure continued access to the space station, which costs the U.S. about $3 billion annually.

An artist's conception shows SpaceX's Crew Dragon spaceship docking with the International Space Station, plus a cargo-carrying version of the Dragon in the foreground. He will be joined by Victor Glover, a Navy commander who will be making his first trip into space. Since the final shuttle mission ended, NASA has paid Russian Federation about $70 million per seat to carry astronauts to and from ISS. He is a Navy commander, aviator and test pilot with nearly 3,000 hours flying more than 40 different aircraft.

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Glover and Cassada are spaceflight rookies. SpaceX aims to launch an uncrewed test flight in November of this year, with a Boeing test flight scheduled for late 2018 or early 2019.

Crew for each flight will include at least a flight commander and a pilot.

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

Nicole Mann: Mann was chosen as an astronaut in 2013, coming to NASA from the Marine Corps, where she was a Lieutenant Colonel and a test pilot. He's spent almost 29 days in space.

The contracts for travel to the International Space Station were awarded in 2014.

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NASA has always been working on developing its commercial crew programme while it can focus on its space exploration projects, the report added.

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