NASA has named the crew of astronauts tasked with reviving America’s prowess in extraterrestrial travel.
Seven men and four women will be go into orbit on crew capsules built by Boeing and SpaceX.
The aviation companies will be conducting test flights at the end of this year and next, and astronauts will leave for the international space station Cape Canaveral in Florida next spring or summer.
“For the first time since 2011, we are on the brink of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator, said.
President Donald Trump hailed the announcement on Twitter: “We have the greatest facilities in the world and we are now letting the private sector pay to use them. Exciting things happening. Space Force!”
NASA, which is making a BIG comeback under the Trump Administration, has just named 9 astronauts for Boeing and Spacex space flights. We have the greatest facilities in the world and we are now letting the private sector pay to use them. Exciting things happening. Space Force!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 3, 2018
The announcement is a major development after years of obstacles in sending crews to space.
A recent mission abort by Boeing resulted from leaking engine fuel, and US astronauts have until now taken Russia capsules to the space station – at a cost of up to $82m for a seat.
The vessels, the SpaceX Dragon and Boeing Starliner, have been developed with billions of dollars in funding from NASA, which has contracted SpaceX and Northrop Grumman to make cargo deliveries to the space station since 2012.
The Starliner crew will include former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson and Nicole Aunapu Mann, who is making her first trip to space, alongside Eric Boe, Sunita Williams and John Cassada.
On the SpaceX vessel will be astronauts Doug Hurley, Victor Glover, Robert Behnken and Michael Hopkins.
As the crew were introduced, the space adventurers gave thumbs-up to cheers from the crowd.
“The first flight is something you dream about as a test pilot, and you don’t think it’s ever going to happen to you,” Doug Hurley said. “But looks like it might.”
The group likened piloting a modern spaceship to driving an iPhone, with only a few switches compared to the 3,000 in the old shuttle cockpit.