NASA names commercial crew for SpaceX and Boeing

NASA has picked four veteran astronauts to be the first crew of a commercial spaceflight, as America turns to SpaceX and Boeing to cut its dependence on Russia. Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley, and Sunita Williams will now begin trining with the two companies developing private spacecraft, ahead of missions first to the International Space Station but, eventually, manned trips to Mars which are expected to take place sometime in the 2030s.

The four will train on the Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, as part of NASA's contract with each company. The space agency has mandated at least one crewed test flight must take place, with at least one NASA-supplied astronaut on-board, by each craft.

During those tests, the rockets and the manned-modules themselves must not only prove they can launch and land successfully, but demonstrate their abilities to maneuver in space and then dock with the ISS.

Likely to be of particular interest is the successful implementation of safety features like the launch abort system, required to move a human crew out of the way of danger should something go wrong during take-off.

SpaceX showed how that would work back in May, a run-through that became all the more memorable after the unmanned CRS-7 resupply mission to the ISS exploded shortly after launch at the end of June.

SpaceX has said that the safety system would have ensured a manned crew would have survived such an incident.

Boeing and SpaceX will each run between two and six crew rotation missions to the ISS, NASA says, with four crew and pressurized cargo of at least 220.5 pounds onboard.