Sunita Williams, the 52-year-old Indian-origin astronaut, will fly on Starliner's first mission with Josh Cassada. "We're flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during the presentation ceremony at the Johnson Space Center of Houston. NASA astronaut Bob Behnken, an experienced spacewalker who flew on two shuttle missions, will strap into the Crew Dragon alongside former shuttle pilot Doug Hurley. The 1997 electrical engineering master's recipient has been selected by NASA to fly aboard Boeing's first commercial crew flight test, which is expected to lift off from Florida in the middle of 2019.
Boeing's second Starliner launch and first bona-fide NASA mission will send astronauts John Cassada and Suni Williams to the ISS.
Following the retirement of the shuttle, U.S. astronauts have been hitching a ride to the International Space Station (ISS) in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft which lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
She was the first person to run a marathon in space, cranking out the miles on a treadmill in the space station while the Boston Marathon was being run on Earth in April 2007.
SpaceX's Crew Dragon will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
SpaceX's first NASA mission to the ISS, in turn, will include Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins.
NASA's continuous presence on the space station for nearly 18 years has enabled technology demonstrations and research in biology and biotechnology, Earth and space science, human health, physical sciences.
NASA has named the astronauts who will fly the first commercial capsules into orbit next year.
"We're immensely proud of Chris and thrilled he will be part of first Starliner crew", Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, said. Mann was affiliated with astronaut corps in 2013 while this will be her inaugural flight. The contracts call for six missions, with as many as four astronauts per mission, for each company.
Ferguson isn't now a NASA employee, though he served as an astronaut from 1998 to 2011 and commanded the final Space Shuttle mission. She was selected by NASA to be an astronaut in 2013. He flew aboard three shuttle missions, including the program's final mission in 2011. Both have yet to undergo uncrewed test flights before proceeding with astronauts onboard.
"I'm sure that there is at least one Russian language instructor out there who thinks that having me fly a USA vehicle is not a bad idea", Cassada said. 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.
United States astronauts have been relying on Russian capsules to travel to the space station, with each seat costing NASA as much as $82 million (€71 million).
"The goal is to have safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and foster commercial access to other potential low-Earth orbit destinations", NASA said.