NASA has named four astronauts who will train for its first commercial space flights that will see the return of American launches to U.S. soil.
On Thursday, July 9, NASA announced the names of the astronauts who are set to lead the mission and fly on capsules that have been made by SpaceX and Boeing.
The four veteran commercial crew astronauts are Air Force Col. Eric Boe, Air Force Col. Robert Behnken, Navy Capt. Sunita Williams and retired Marine Col. Douglas Hurley. All the astronauts selected have prior test pilot experience and have flown to space at least two times.
"I am pleased to announce four American space pioneers have been selected to be the first astronauts to train to fly to space on commercial crew vehicles, all part of our ambitious plan to return space launches to U.S. soil, create good-paying American jobs and advance our goal of sending humans farther into the solar system than ever before," noted Charles Bolden, NASA's Administrator. "These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail—a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars."
The four astronauts have over 400 days in space (when combined). This number is primarily due to record-holder Sunita Williams' over 85 hours of spacewalking time and her two station stints.
Here are a few more details on the four selected veterans.
Robert Behnken: The Air Force colonel performed spacewalks in 2008 and 2010 during flights of the space shuttle Endeavour.
Eric Boe: Also an Air Force colonel like Behnken, Boe flew to space in 2008 aboard the Endeavour and in 2011 on Discovery's last flight to space.
Douglas Hurley: This retired Marine colonel's first journey to space was in 2009 aboard the Endeavour. He was also part of Atlantis' crew in 2011.
Sunita Williams: She holds the record for the maximum cumulative spacewalking time—50 hours and 40 minutes—by a woman astronaut. Williams is a Navy captain and did space station duty in 2006 to 2007 and 2012.
All the four astronauts are eager to be the first ones to fly and have been selected owing to their spaceflight experience. However, they have to wait until 2017 as the crew capsules are still under development by Boeing and SpaceX.
The shuttle is anticipated to launch from the International Space Station (ISS) from Cape Canaveral in Florida. This will be the first manned launch since 2011 when the Atlantis took off.
Initially, all four astronauts will work with both private companies then zone in on one they choose to fly with.