Sunita Williams among 9 astronauts to fly into space from U.S. soil

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NASA introduced to the world on Friday the first USA astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station - an endeavor that will return astronaut launches to US soil for the first time since the space shuttle's retirement in 2011.

"This is a big deal for our country, and we want America to know we're back", Bridenstine said in a speech. Using American-made spacecrafts and launching from the U.S. soil is a more affordable option for the US.

Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins, who has spent more than 160 days in space, were selected to crew SpaceX's first full mission.

This mission, now targeted for April 2019, will liftoff from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida with the astronauts aboard Crew Dragon atop a Falcon 9 rocket.

Nine astronauts were named to ride the SpaceX Dragon and Boeing Starliner capsules - five on the first crew flights and four on the second round of missions to the International Space Station. The department released an alarming report that indicated the agency could see its Commercial Crew Program delayed resulting in a loss of access to the International Space Station (ISS) for nine months or possibly more. "She is in touch with the family as her preparations are going on for the mission", she said.

Clockwise from top left: Sunita Williams, Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley and Eric Boe. Their mission is scheduled for April 2019.

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"As a test pilot, it doesn't get any better than this", said Mann, a Naval aviator.

Several of the selected astronauts are shuttle program veterans.

NASA has announced the first astronauts who will head to the International Space Station on a commercially built spacecraft.

It's been a long trip for these astronauts.

Crew Dragon is a passenger version of a robotic cargo ship Dragon, and SpaceX plans to use the spacecraft to send astronauts to the global space station. Boeing's uncrewed test flight will slip to the end of 2018, and its crewed test will launch in mid-2019.

As for being the only non-NASA guy on board, Ferguson explained later during a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" program that Boeing always uses company test pilots for first flights "and the Starliner is no exception". On one side, Boeing showed off its spacesuit, a handsome blue uniform, next to SpaceX's sleek black-and-white suit. They will be the first Americans to launch into space from USA soil since NASA's space shuttle program retired in 2011.Since then, the US has relied on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to carry Americans space.

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"The men and women we assign to these first flights are at the forefront of this exciting new time for human spaceflight", Mark Geyer, the director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Government Accountability Office recommended NASA pursue a backup plan for getting astronauts to the ISS, as its contract with Russian Federation to send them to the station via Soyuz launches in Kazakhstan ends at the close of 2019.

Glover, who also joined NASA in 2013, summed it up simply. He was a test pilot and colonel in the Marine Corps before coming to NASA in 2000 to become an astronaut. Both vehicles are reusable.

The Drexel grad said his "fingerprints are all over" the Boeing Starliner, which he and two other crew members, Eric Boe and Nicole Aunapu Mann, are set to launch from Florida.

Those launch targets may change.

For SpaceX's Crew Dragon, the uncrewed mission has been designated Demo-1, and it will take off with the help of a Falcon 9 rocket from Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The first crewed flights would then follow by the end of 2018.

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