VICE News spoke with Dennis Stone, one of the founding members of NASA's commercial investment program, to hear the story behind the agency's success in backing private spaceflight.
Not only will the manned test flights be the first time astronauts fly to the space station aboard commercial spacecraft, but they will also be the first launch of "American astronauts on American-made spacecraft from American soil" since NASA retired its space shuttle program in 2011, the space agency said. Both Boeing and SpaceX have issues to work out before they can complete their first crewed flights; the 2019 dates are targets and may be optimistic ones at that.
NASA has named the crew of astronauts tasked with reviving America's prowess in extraterrestrial travel.
"Space has transformed the American way of life", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Boeing said it would be ready sometime in the middle of 2019. He is a colonel in the Air Force, where he was a flight test engineer before being selected as a NASA astronaut in 2009.
In 2015, NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams were assigned to the commercial crew program to provide the astronaut's perspective during commercial crew development. It will mark Mann's first trip to space.
The seven men and two women will also be the first astronauts to fly in capsules developed and built by the private sector as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.
One dead and over 200 hurt in Gaza protest
Associated Press writers Fares Akram in Amman, Jordan, Ian Deitch in Jerusalem and Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank contributed.
No NASA astronaut has rocketed into space from American soil since July 8, 2011, when the space shuttle Atlantis took off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, laden with 28,000 pounds of supplies for the International Space Station.
The nine astronauts, most with previous experience in orbit, will ride the SpaceX Dragon and Boeing Starliner capsules to the International Space Station. Since then, the space agency has turned to private space firms, like SpaceX, to oversee cargo runs to the ISS, while sending USA astronauts there on Russian rockets. Ferguson is the veteran of three space shuttle missions.
The first Boeing Starliner mission to the ISS will be crewed by John Cassada, a NASA astronaut, physicist and Navy test pilot.
Boe was selected as an astronaut in 2000.
The Government Accountability Office recently issued a warning to NASA that it needs to have a contingency plan in place to ensure continued access to the space station, which costs the U.S. about $3 billion annually. She has logged 322 days in space.
Elon Musk's SpaceX is going to start putting people on its test flights in April next year, ahead of Boeing, NASA has revealed in a schedule published Thursday. "I look forward, sir, to getting you down there at some point out in Hawthorne [SpaceX's California headquarters] and maybe you can sit next to us in the cockpit and go through flying the iPhone to dock to space station".