Needham astronaut heading back to space on first commercial flights

NASA is naming 8 astronauts to fly SpaceX and Boeing's new spaceships - here's how to watch the announcement live

NASA is naming 8 astronauts to fly SpaceX and Boeing's new spaceships - here's how to watch the announcement live

The first US astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station, waving after being announced, (left to right) Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, Nicole Aunapu Mann, Chris Ferguson, Eric Boe, Josh Cassada, and Suni Williamson at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas on August 3.

NASA said the spacecraft returned to Earth with more than 3,800 pounds (more than 1,700 kilograms) of cargo, including specimens from biological experiments conducted on-board the space station.

After a seven-year hiatus, American astronauts will once again go to space from the U.S.

NASA will announce Friday morning the names of the first astronauts to fly to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner.

"What an exciting and awesome day", Jim Bridenstine, NASA's administrator, said at the announcement at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL - JUNE 19: Chris Ferguson, Boeing director of Starliner Crew and Mission Systems and former NASA astronaut, along with NASA astronaut Suni Williams, practice the emergency egress system training from the Crew access tower at Launch Complex 41 at Kennedy Space Center.

She made headlines in 2007 for being the first person to run a full marathon in space.

NASA contracted both companies to shuttle astronauts to and from the International Space Station following the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011.

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"It's absolutely an opportunity of a lifetime", said Mann, who was selected as an astronaut in 2013.

Additional crew members will be assigned by NASA's global partners at a later date. They were assigned to ride on the first major flights of Boeing and SpaceX's Commercial Crew vehicles.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft will be launched on one of the company's Falcon 9 rockets, while Boeing's Starliner will hitch a lift on United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5. Bob Behnken of the Air Force and Doug Hurley, a retired Marine Corps colonel. Both SpaceX and Boeing were supposed to clear this hurdle past year, but Boeing is now likely to win certification in January, with SpaceX following it the next month.

SpaceX, however, moved up the uncrewed test flight of its Dragon spacecraft from December to November of this year.

Despite her relatively recent success in her work with NASA as an astronaut, NASA officials have noted she's the type of astronaut who could be sent on a manned mission to Mars or to an asteroid. "So, our investment in American space exploration always pays back ... multiple folds in terms of the human condition", he added.

NASA has just updated its schedule for commercial crew. The two companies have also developed new spacesuits, modified their launch pads and established mission control teams to support the upcoming flights.

The space station's operational lifespan has already been extended to reach 2025, though the White House recently began discussing the idea of turning the aging station over to commercial investors who might be interested in continuing the ISS's run of maintaining a continuously manned presence in space for almost two decades.

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