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NASA Taps Astronauts for Commercial Flights

Astronauts, from left, Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins, Robert Behnken, Douglas Hurley, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Eric Boe, Josh Cassada and Sunita Williams give a thumbs up to the crowd after NASA announced them as astronauts assigned to crew the first flight tests and missions of the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon, Aug. 3, 2018, in Houston.

The U.S. space agency NASA on Friday introduced the nine astronauts who will ride the first commercial space capsules into orbit next year.

The move marks a significant shift in the U.S. space program, which will now combine NASA-trained astronauts with private sector space capsules. The capsules, made by SpaceX and Boeing, will ferry the astronauts and cargo back and forth to the International Space Station.

Since NASA’s space shuttle program was shut down in 2011, it has had to rely on Russia to fly astronauts to the space station.

"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 during a ceremony at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The nine astronauts — seven men and two women — waved and pumped their fists into the air as they appeared on stage to cheers from the crowd. All but three of the astronauts are space flight veterans.

In 2014, SpaceX and Boeing received contracts for $2.6 billion and $4.2 billion, respectively, to develop space capsules that can ferry astronauts to and from the space station.

The two companies are planning for a test flight of their capsules by the end of this year or early next year, with the first crews hoping to fly from Cape Canaveral, Florida, by next spring or summer.