Sunita Williams among 9 astronauts to fly into space from USA soil

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Set to command what is scheduled to be NASA's first launch of astronauts from US soil in seven years is Chris Ferguson, a 56-year-old Philly-born space explorer. 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.

SpaceX is first to conduct its test flight of spacecraft in a bid to meet NASA's requirement to transport USA astronauts to the International Space Station.

Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing's defense, space and security business, said in a statement published Friday the company is proud to have Ferguson as part of the first Starliner crew.

The team consists of men and women from across America.

On Friday NASA unveiled the names of the nine astronauts who will go into space in 2019 in space ships from Boeing and SpaceX: a mix of veteran astronauts and young ones.

SpaceX planned a non-passenger demonstration flight in November 2018, while the first astronauts, including Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, are expected to leave Earth in April 2019.

NASA plans to launch American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station next year - and a Cal Poly alumnus has been selected to pilot one of the missions. NPR reports that some critics think the SLS is too expensive compared to industry developments like SpaceX's Falcon Heavy. Mann will also make history as the first female astronaut on the inaugural crewed flight of a new US spacecraft.

The two companies are planning for a test flight of their capsules by the end of this year or early next year, with the first crews hoping to fly from Cape Canaveral, Florida, by next spring or summer. Boeing's Ferguson was pilot on STS-116 on board Space Shuttle Atlantis as well as commander of STS-126 on Space Shuttle Endeavour and the final flight of the space shuttle program, STS-135 on board Atlantis. Nicole Aunapu Mann will be making her first flight; she completed her astronaut training in 2015. "I'll tell you, being able to launch to the International Space Station from US soil, I can't imagine better", Cassada said. Preceding them in flight will be Chris Ferguson, Nicole Mann, and Eric Boe who will conduct the vehicle's test flight.

The process will begin with uncrewed flight tests as early as late 2018. He spent more than 40 days in space for NASA during three shuttle missions.

The announcement marks an important milestone for NASA's Commercial Crew program, which has paid Boeing and SpaceX $6.8 billion since 2014.

The Boeing and SpaceX crewed test missions are arguably the most anticipated spaceship test flights this century. She has logged 322 days in space. She then served two combat tours, flying 47 combat missions in F/A-18s (a United States combat jet) as a fighter pilot over Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cassada, a Navy commander and test pilot, joined the astronaut corps in 2013; the launch will be his first. The group includes eight current NASA astronauts and one Boeing astronaut.