Space Station Sunday: Meet NASA's First Commercial Crew

Good afternoon, space fans!  Here's some more of the best for the ISS.

Someday, when civilians are chilling in SpaceX space station pods, these pictures will be on the wall.
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NASA has announced the names of the four astronauts who will comprise space's first commercially-launched crew.  Robert "Bob" Behnken, Eric Boe, Doug Hurley and Sunita “Suni” Williams will be the first pioneers to fly to the ISS on spacecrafts jointly developed between SpaceX and Boeing.  NASA's Commercial Crew Program is working with the companies to develop numerous projects, among them Boeing’s integrated CST-100 spacecraft (to be launched on United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket), and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft (to be launched on a Falcon 9 rocket.)  Although no official launch date has yet been set, the technology is proceeding apace.

Nice ride!  The CTS-100 is set to make history.
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The Commercial Crew will be the first Americans launched into space from U.S. soil since the demise of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.  All four have previously served as test pilots, and are working closely with the companies to help develop the groundbreaking new spacecrafts.

Bob Behnken flew to the ISS twice aboard the space shuttle, conducting a total of six spacewalks during his sojourn on the ISS.  He was thoroughly involved in the construction of the ISS, helping to install the Dextre robotic manipulator, the Japanese Experiment module, the Tranquility module, and the photographically-famous cupola.  He considers himself a "Swiss Army Knife-type" of astronaut who has a wide variety of useful spacefaring skills.

Behnken in the cupola that he helped to install.
All of your home improvement projects suck in comparison.
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Eric Boe, a former F-15 combat pilot, test pilot, and Air Force colonel, piloted the space shuttle during the STS-126 and STS-133 missions.  His skill at dexterously maneuvering the spacecraft to dock with the ISS was paramount to safely achieving the rendezvous.  Previously serving as Director of Operations at Russia's Gagarin Spaceflight Center, he considers it "very important" to be at the forefront of America's independence in space.

Smile, you're going back to space!
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Doug Hurley is a former Marine aviator who was the first Marine to fly the F/A-18 Super Hornet.  He also flew the space shuttle twice to the ISS on the STS-127 and STS-135 missions.  He understands it will be a "tremendous amount" of work to achieve what amounts to a second space shuttle series, but that the efforts will be worthwhile.  He has also previously worked as support for other space shuttle astronauts who launched from Cape Kennedy in Florida, and has helped with training astronauts at the Gagarin Spaceflight Center in Russia. 

Doug Hurley is the guy everyone stereotypically thinks of when they hear the word "astronaut."
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Suni Williams has also traveled twice to the ISS, once on a space shuttle and once in a Soyuz.  She has accrued over 322 days in space, which had been a record for a female, and one only recently broken by Italy's Samantha Cristoforetti.  She continues to hold the record for female spacewalks, having floated extravehicularly for 50 hours and 40 minutes in total outside of the ISS.  A former Navy test pilot who worked with helicopters as well as a variety of other aircraft, Williams considers the Commercial Crew program "the next step in engineering development and research" for deep-space travel.

She also ran the Boston Marathon from space.  Wicked.
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NASA administrator Charles Bolden agrees, stating, "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."

The releasing of low-earth-orbit ventures to private contractors will allow NASA to focus on its Orion spacecraft and Space Launch Systems rocket (comparable to the Apollo program's Saturn V), a formidable team that will someday ferry humans to Mars.

In the meantime, this Soyuz rocket will take the Expedition 45 crew up on Wednesday!
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In other ISS news, the current crew had an eventful week, celebrating the anniversary of the launch of the Apollo rocket that later docked with a Soyuz on July 17th, 1975.  They also celebrated the wonderful news of the New Horizons space craft making a flyby of Pluto.  Then it was right back to work, as science waits for no man, and the place needs to be in top form for the three new astro-adventurers arriving on the 22nd!

That's all for now from our favorite orbital outpost!  Beam us up next week to see how the three spacemen of Expedition 45 fared on their journey to the ISS.  Watch this space!

New images show active geology on Pluto.  So many more discoveries await us...
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