Sunita Williams among 9 astronauts for NASA’s new private space flight programme

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Victor Glover, who graduated from Cal Poly in 1999 with a degree in engineering, is one of nine astronauts who will crew the first test flight and mission of both Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon.

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule is expected to undergo an uncrewed test flight sometime later this year or early next year, with a crew test flight in the middle of 2019.

These pioneering flights to the International Space Station aboard commercially built crew capsules will be the first leaving USA soil to put people into orbit since the iconic space shuttle program ended in 2011.

Besides Ferguson and Mann, the initial commercial crew members are: Eric Boe, Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada riding on Boeing.

"NASA is empowering private industry to gain solid footing in low-Earth orbit, which will allow NASA to explore new frontiers in deep space", said Jon Cowart, acting deputy manager for the Commercial Crew Program's Mission Management and Integration office at the Kennedy Space Center.

Currently, NASA can only send staff to the orbiting laboratory with Russia's Soyuz spacecraft.

"This is a big deal for our country, and we want Americans to know that we are back", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said Friday. "This accomplished group of American astronauts, flying on new spacecraft developed by our commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX, will launch a new era of human spaceflight. Today's announcement advances our great American vision and strengthens the nation's leadership in space", he added. In between them, the astronauts have decades of space experience, including as members of the now-retired space shuttle. Among the three astronauts selected for Boeing's Starliner test flight is Nicole Aunapu Mann - a California native whose grandfather, Helmuth Aunapu, emigrated to the USA from Estonia just before the Second World War. Robert Behnken, a former Air Force colonel, will join former Marine Corps colonel Douglas Hurley on the Crew Dragon test flight.

Each test flight will provide data on the performance of the rockets, spacecraft, ground systems, and operations to ensure the systems are safe to fly astronauts.

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The crew for the SpaceX Crew Dragon test flight, which may end up being the first to launch, features two NASA astronauts: Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

"The next generation of American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station are nearing the final stages of development and evaluation". Space X, the private space company founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk put out Dragon as the first private aircraft to berth with the ISS. Dr Deepak Pandya, her father, said that she would start training for the 2019-20 mission. He has spent 166 days on the International Space Station for Expeditions 37/38, and conducted two spacewalks.

Three of the chosen astronauts joined the corps in 2013, which was before the commercial partnership was announced. In 2013 and 2014, Hopkins spent almost six months aboard the ISS, logging almost 13 hours of spacewalks. The crewed flight tests will mostly mirror the uncrewed missions, except a flight commander and pilot will be manning each mission once they are ready for a human crew. If any further delays creep up, NASA's astronauts may be temporarily stranded on Earth.

Victor Glover is from Pomona, California.

Boeing's Starliner will launch aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Michael Hopkins was born in Lebanon, Missouri, and grew up on a farm near Richland, Missouri.

Additional crew members will be assigned by NASA's worldwide partners at a later date.