NASA has announced the names of the first astronauts to ride into space aboard the first generation of commercial spacecraft that will return manned launch capabilities to American soil. With the selection process complete, the astronauts are set to begin a stringent training program in preparation for the 2017 launch of Boeing's CST-100 spacecraft.

NASA has been working with SpaceX and Boeing under the Commercial Crew Program to subsidize the innovation of a new generation of advanced spacecraft with the aim of stripping the manned spaceflight monopoly from the Russian-made Soyuz spacecraft.

In the long term, this action will have the dual purpose of making access to low-Earth orbit more affordable, while guaranteeing American independence in the aerospace sphere.

Both the Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft are making significant strides towards meeting NASA's stringent safety standards. May saw the Crew Dragon successfully complete a pad abort test, during which the company field trialled an innovative new Launch Abort System, and Boeing was granted the first-ever manned commercial spaceflight mission.

The four astronauts selected to fly aboard the CST-100 are veterans of multiple launches:

  • Robert Bebuken – flew aboard space shuttle missions STS-123 and STS-130, accruing 29 days in space including 37 hours of EVA.
  • Eric Boe – crewed the Space Shuttle Endeavour on STS-123 and Discovery on STS-133 achieving a total of 28 days in space.
  • Douglas Hurley – served as pilot for the Space Shuttles Endeavour and Atlantis during STS-127 and STS-135, the final mission in the program, having spent 28 days in space.
  • Sunita Williams – currently holds the record for longest cumulative space walk time by a female astronaut with a total EVA period of 50 hours and 40 minutes. Williams served as an ISS crew member for both Expedition 14/15 and Expedition 32/33, racking up an impressive 322 days in space.

Moving forward, the astronauts will train with NASA's commercial partners to gain an in depth understanding of the next generation spacecraft.

Scroll down for NASA's video release commemorating the selection of the first commercial astronaut crew.

Source: NASA