NASA is just two years away from sending astronauts to the International Space Station from the U.S.

Today, the space agency announced the first four astronauts onboard these U.S.-based launches.

Astronauts Robert Behnken, Sunita Williams, Eric Boe and Douglas Hurley will board the SpaceX Dragon Crew or Boeing CST-100 for the trip to the ISS.

All four astronauts are veterans of the NASA program.

“These distinguished, veteran astronauts are blazing a new trail, a trail that will one day land them in the history books and Americans on the surface of Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

NASA picks four astronauts for commercial initiative

Top left: Douglas Hurley, top right: Sunita Williams, bottom right: Eric Boe, and bottom left: Robert Behnken.

Robert Behnken

Robert Behnken served as an Air Force test pilot before being selected by NASA in 2000 as a Mission Specialist.

Behnken was apart of STS-123 in March 2008 and STS-130 in February 2010. He has logged more than 700 hours in space and 37 hours in six spacewalks.

Sunita Williams

Sunita Williams has been with NASA the longest. She was selected by NASA in 1998. In late 2006 and early 2007, she served as Flight Engineer aboard the International Space Station.

Williams served aboard the ISS again in during Expedition 32/33 in 2012.

Williams holds the record for most spacewalk time by a female astronaut at 50 hours and 40 minutes. She conducted four spacewalks during her first stay at the ISS and added another three her second trip.

Eric Boe

Boe also served as an Air Force test pilot before joining NASA in 2000. He is a veteran of the skies with more than 5,000 flight hours logged across more than 45 aircraft.

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Boe was apart of STS-126 and STS-133. He was a member of the final Space Shuttle Discovery mission.

Douglas Hurley

Hurley served in the Marine Corps for 24 years and was a F/A-18 test pilot before joining NASA in 2000.

Hurley took two trips to space, one with STS-127 and another with STS-135. The second mission was aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis from July 8 to July 21, 2011. This was the final mission of the Space Shuttle program.

Four years later, NASA has selected the first four astronauts to launch from the U.S.

NASA’s prime focus remains on a Journey to Mars. Launching astronauts from the U.S. via commercial space taxis is just one step towards an eventual Mars mission.

Bolden highlights how SpaceX and Boeing are helping NASA focus on other areas. “By working with American companies to get our astronauts to the ISS, NASA is able to focus on game-changing technologies, the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that are geared toward getting astronauts to deep space.”

Bolden also touched on the economic advantages of U.S. based launches. Hundreds of companies are working to make the commercial crew initiative succeed. “Every dollar we invest in commercial crew is a dollar we invest in ourselves, rather than in the Russian economy,” says Bolden.

Plus, NASA will save nearly $20 million per seat with an American-owned spacecraft. Russia charges $76 million per seat on its Soyuz. SpaceX and Boeing will charge $58 million.

NASA and America companies are bringing our space program back to where it needs to be. Getting astronauts to the ISS via U.S. based launches is one small step that will eventually lead to deep space missions.

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