NASA named on Thursday the four veteran astronauts who will be on the first commercial flights into orbit from US soil since the country’s space shuttles were retired from service in 2011.
Astronauts Bob Behnken, Eric Boe, Doug Hurley and Sunita Williams will work with SpaceX and Boeing’s own crew for the maiden flights. Each astronaut has previously flown on the Space Shuttle to the International Space Station (ISS).
“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," NASA administrator Charles Bolden said on his blog.
The four were selected according to their spaceflight experience, NASA said. Together they have a combined total of more than 400 days in space. Williams, a two-time ISS resident, has more than 85 hours of spacewalking experience.
According to NASA’s contracts – totalling $7 billion – with SpaceX and Boeing, at least one NASA astronaut should be sent to orbit in a test flight of the SpaceX Dragon and Boeing’s CIST-100 rockets in 2017.
Since 2011, NASA has been using Russian Soyuz rockets to send its astronauts to the space station for a cost of tens of millions of dollars. The latest launch cost NASA $76 million.
However, an American spacecraft would cost $58 million per astronaut, according to Bolden, adding that each mission will carry an additional crew member along with scientific equipment.