What We Know About the 9 Astronauts Flying the New Commercial Ships

NASA is naming 8 astronauts to fly SpaceX and Boeing's new spaceships - here's how to watch the announcement live

NASA on Friday is scheduled to announce the crews of the first flights to fly from United States soil since the space shuttle retired in 2011, an elite group of astronauts that the agency hopes will help open a new era of space travel. Initially, all four crew members trained on both vehicles, but with flights just a year away, NASA is now assigning the crew to specific missions.

"This is a big deal for our country, and we want America to know we're back".

"For the first time since 2011, we are on the brink of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil, " said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who introduced the astronauts at Johnson Space Center in Houston in Friday.

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. Former chief astronaut Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley - who served as co-pilot on the final shuttle mission - will fly on SpaceX's Dragon during its first manned flight.

"As a test pilot, it doesn't get any better than this", said astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann, a Naval aviator who will make her first trip into space on the first Starliner crew.

More astronauts will be announced to join the crews at a later date, NASA said. They were two of the four astronauts selected by NASA in July 2015 to be trained to fly commercial crew missions.

SpaceX, however, did move up the uncrewed test flight of its Dragon spacecraft from December to November of this year. That flight is now projected to lift off in April of 2019.

"NASA is continuing to assess multiple scenarios to ensure continued USA access to the International Space Station", the space agency told Bloomberg.

NASA Commercial Crew Program NASA astronauts (from left) are: Suni Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Mann, Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Bob Behnken, Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover.

Ferguson, who has been involved from the start in the Starliner's development, flew three shuttle missions as a Nasa astronaut. Boe piloted two shuttle flights. The race to get astronauts to the space station first is real; a USA flag that flew on the first space shuttle flight in 1981 and the last shuttle flight in 2011, awaits the victor. "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. SpaceX's first operational flight to the space station will also be Glover's first flight to space.

Since then, astronauts have relied on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to transport them to and from the orbiting space station. "I look forward, sir, to getting you down there at some point out in Hawthorne [SpaceX's California headquarters] and maybe you can sit next to us in the cockpit and go through flying the iPhone to dock to space station".

The first Starliner post-certification mission, yet to be formally scheduled, will fly NASA astronauts Josh Cassada and Sunita Williams.

SpaceX has also faced its own problems, particularly with its Falcon 9 rocket that will power the Dragon into space.

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