The first flight is expected sometime next year. “For the first time since 2011, we are on the brink of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. President Donald Trump also tweeted: “We have the greatest facilities in the world and we are now letting the private sector pay to use them. Exciting things happening.” The commercial crew program is expected to allow expanded use of the space station. In 2014, SpaceX and Boeing received contracts for $2.6 billion and $4.2 billion, respectively, to develop so-called space taxis that can ferry astronauts to and from the space station.
Boeing’s first Starliner crew will include former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson, who commanded the last shuttle flight in 2011. He is now a Boeing employee. SpaceX’s first crew tests on the Dragon capsule will be helmed by shuttle veterans Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley. NASA veteran Sunita Williams, a retired Navy captain and one of the most experienced American astronauts in history, and Josh Cassada, a Navy pilot making his first flight to space and shuttle veteran Michael Hopkins will participate to future extended space missions.