Meet the first astronauts to fly the new SpaceX and Boeing spaceships

In this illustration a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft approaches the International Space Station for docking

In this illustration a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft approaches the International Space Station for docking

NASA announced on Friday the astronauts who will crew the Boeing and SpaceX spacecraft, the first time Americans will return to space in hopes of reaching the International Space Station from Florida's Space Coast since 2011.

Leading up to the a ceremony at the Johnson Space Center here, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said it was a historic moment for the space agency, saying: "We are going to launch American astronauts from American soil".

The new spaceflight capability provided by Boeing and SpaceX will allow NASA to maintain a crew of seven astronauts on the space station, according to NASA.

He said the announcement advances "our great American vision" and strengthens America's leadership in space.

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. He flew on two flights of the space shuttle including the final mission, Atlantis's STS-135.

Until this morning, the publicly available schedule posted on the Internet by NASA showed all four commercial crew test flights - uncrewed and crewed for both companies - taking place in 2018.

"NASA's Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to USA soil, providing safe, reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety and mission requirements", said the official blog.

Boeing Starliner's flight will be known as the Orbital Flight Test, and it will depart atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Astronauts Sunita Williams, Doug Hurley, Bob Behnken and Eric Boe have spent the past three years working with Boeing and SpaceX on their commercial crew spaceships. Boe will be making his third trip to space.

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On the first operational mission to the International Space Station, Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada would fly for Boeing. While both companies had recently said they would fly their first test flights with astronauts on board by the end of this year, those flights are now scheduled for 2019.

Mike Hopkins - veteran astronaut from Expeditions 37 and 38, he already spent 166 days in space and did two spacewalks.

"I'm sure there's at least one Russian-language instructor out there who thinks that having me fly in a USA vehicle is not a bad idea", quipped Cassada.

Chris Ferguson - retired Navy captain and NASA astronaut, now working with Boeing on the CST-100 Starliner program; piloted the Atlantis during STS-115 and commanded both the Endeavour and the Atlantis on STS-126 and STS-135.

Suni Williams: Williams was chosen as an astronaut in 1998 after a career in the Navy.

SpaceX's ambitious Dragon Spacecraft rings in the good news of the successful completion of another International Space Station mission (CRS-15). The spacecraft will dock and undock autonomously to the space station before flying their crew back to Earth.

The astronauts named today (see the full list below) are tasked with those missions, all four of which are slated to happen sometime in 2019.

Additional crew members will be assigned by NASA's global partners at a later date.

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