Boeing's Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft will soon have their first riders: NASA plans to announce on Aug. 3 the astronauts assigned to the test flights and maiden voyages of the agency's commercial crew program.
NASA will air the event live from Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston starting at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), where NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will introduce the astronauts. JSC Director Mark Geyer and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, as well as representatives from SpaceX and Boeing, will also be involved, NASA officials said in a statement. The program will reveal the astronauts assigned to each of the companies' crewed test flights and their first missions to the space station, which will all launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA's Commercial Crew Program will allow Boeing and SpaceX to launch astronauts to the International Space Station. This will provide a pathway to approval for Boeing's Starliner spacecraft, which will launch atop United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 rocket, and SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, carried by the company's Falcon 9 rocket. Both Boeing and SpaceX have been testing and developing their spacecraft, and both are currently slated to have their first crewed test flights in 2018. Dragon currently delivers cargo to the International Space Station on robotic resupply runs; the Crew Dragon is a modified version of the capsule. [What's Next for NASA's New Astronaut Class]
Russia's Soyuz spacecraft is currently the only spacecraft used to bring astronauts and cosmonauts to the International Space Station, but NASA hasn't committed to buying seats on that spacecraft for the agency's astronauts after 2019. Boeing and SpaceX are set to be a crucial part of NASA's space station program if they can get their crewed craft up and running.
Astronauts currently train for the Soyuz, but the newly named crew will be the first of a new generation training to fly and ride in Starliner and Dragon. They will also be the first to launch from U.S. soil to the International Space Station since the final space shuttle flight, in 2011, NASA officials said.
"Commercial transportation to and from the space station will enable expanded station use, additional research time and broader opportunities of discovery aboard the orbiting laboratory," NASA officials said in the statement. "The station is critical for NASA to understand and overcome the challenges of long-duration spaceflight, and [it's] necessary for a sustainable presence on the moon and missions deeper into the solar system, including Mars."
After the Aug. 3 announcement, the astronauts will take questions on Reddit starting at 12:30 p.m. EDT (1630 GMT) on an Ask Me Anything page, according to NASA.