NASA has introduced the first U.S. astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station.
Introductions were made Friday of both the veterans and first-time fliers who would helm this next generation of crewed spacecraft.
It's an endeavor that has long been in the works and one that will return astronaut launches to U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the accomplished group of American astronauts, flying on new spacecraft developed by the agency's commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX, "will launch a new era of human spaceflight."
The agency assigned nine astronauts to crew the first test flight and mission of both Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.
NASA has worked closely with the companies throughout design, development and testing to ensure the systems meet NASA’s safety and performance requirements.
Eric Boe, Christopher Ferguson, and Nicole Aunapu Mann were assigned to the test flight of the Boeing Starliner.Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will be the first to test-fly the SpaceX Crew Dragon.
NASA says both of these new ships will conduct test flights and missions from launch complexes at Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center.
After each company successfully completes its crewed test flight, NASA says it will begin the final process of certifying that spacecraft and systems for regular crew missions to the space station.
Test flights could begin for the Dragon in April of 2019.
For the Starliner, they could begin by the middle of next year.
The agency says it has contracted six missions, with as many as four astronauts per mission, for each company.
NASA officials say the new spaceflight capability provided by Boeing and SpaceX will allow NASA to maintain a crew of seven astronauts on the space station, thereby maximizing scientific research.