NASA selects 9 astronauts for first crewed Boeing, SpaceX missions

“I’m just grateful to help usher in this new era of American spaceflight.”

(CNN) — NASA has tapped nine astronauts to become the first to launch into space from American soil since the Space Shuttle program was retired in 2011.

The seven men and two women will also be the first astronauts to fly in capsules developed and built by the private sector as part of NASA’s commercial crew program.

Since 2011, the United States has relied on Russia to ferry astronauts to the space station. SpaceX and Boeing were picked by NASA in 2014 to develop spacecrafts to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station, and both companies are slated to launch their first crewed missions in the next year. Some, however, deem that target ambitious.

During an announcement Friday at Johnson Space Center in Texas, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said Chris Ferguson, a former NASA astronaut who has worked with Boeing for years as it developed its Starliner spacecraft, will fly as a private astronaut. As the other astronauts donned NASA patches on their blue jumpsuits, Ferguson wore a Boeing applique.

“I’m just grateful to help usher in this new era of American spaceflight,” Ferguson told the crowd.

Ferguson will fly with NASA astronauts Eric Boe, a veteran of two Space Shuttle missions, and Nicole Aunapu Mann on the first crewed test flight of Starliner, currently projected to take place in mid-2019. It will mark Aunapu Mann’s first trip to space.

The first crewed test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule will include NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. That flight is currently projected to lift off in April of 2019. It will be the third trip to space for both Behnken and Hurley.

The first full mission of Boeing’s Starliner, which will fly to the ISS for a long-duration stay, will take ISS veteran Suni Williams and spaceflight newcomer Josh Cassada. Williams has already spent more than 300 days on the ISS.

Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins, who has spent more than 160 days on the ISS, were selected to crew SpaceX’s first full mission. It will be Glover’s first mission.