Sunita Williams among 9 astronauts relaunching USA space travel

A support structure for Boeing's Starliner spacecraft the first flight of which has been postponed to 2019 is seen being installed in Cape Canaveral Florida in 2016

Robotic flight controllers released the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft from the International Space Station's robotic arm at 12:38 p.m. EDT, and Expedition 56 Serena Auñon-Chancellor of NASA is monitoring its departure. "NASA's Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to US soil, providing safe, reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety and mission requirements", read the agency's statement. An astronaut of Indian origin Sunita Williams is among the nine.

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. Since then, the space agency has turned to private space firms, like SpaceX, to oversee cargo runs to the ISS, while sending United States astronauts there on Russian rockets.

He said the announcement advances "our great American vision" and strengthens America's leadership in space.

"The first flight is something you dream about as a test pilot", said Hurley, who flew on the last shuttle mission. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley would fly on the first human test flight of SpaceX's Dragon capsule.

All nine have military experience in Navy, Air Force, or Marines. NASA says this was actually not a requirement for certifying the vehicles, but both companies opted to perform end-to-end flight tests to ensure the entire integrated system worked properly.

An unmanned Boeing flight test is scheduled for later this year, while the first flight with the crew is expected to take place in mid-2019, NASA said.

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"I've been waiting for this day." said Sunita Williams, who was one of the four astronauts that has been working with both commercial partners for the last three years. Success in these missions means that the Boeing and SpaceX spacecraft could start regular servicing missions to the ISS. "I'll tell you, being able to launch to the International Space Station from US soil, I can't imagine better", Cassada said. Boeing said only that it would fly NASA's astronauts by the middle of next year.

The first cargo demonstration flight of Dragon occurred in May 2012, and the commercial flights followed shortly. He is a Navy commander and test pilot with more than 3,500 flight hours in more than 40 aircraft.

Both Boeing and SpaceX are also working with Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas company that intends to launch private space stations into orbit, to be leased to nations or companies.

The first full mission of Boeing's Starliner, which will fly to the ISS for a long-duration stay, will take ISS veteran Suni Williams and spaceflight newcomer Josh Cassada.

Michael Hopkins was born in Lebanon, Missouri, and grew up on a farm near Richland, Missouri.

"This is a big deal for our country and we want America to know that we are back, that we are flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil", Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine said as he unveiled the crew members in Houston, Texas. He is a colonel in the Air Force, where he was a flight test engineer before being selected as a NASA astronaut in 2009.

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