The first group of American astronauts who will fly to and from the International Space Station from U.S. soil in nearly a decade all served as military officers.
Eric Boe, Christopher Ferguson, Nicole Aunapu Mann, Robert Behnken, Douglas Hurley, Josh Cassada, Sunita Williams, Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins hope to usher in a new era of American space travel. They'll head to space in aircraft that weren't designed by NASA.
The astronauts will fly the first test flights and missions in two American-made, commercial spacecraft: Boeing's CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX's Crew Dragon. NASA has worked closely with the companies throughout design, development and testing to ensure the systems meet the agency's safety and performance requirements, according to a news release.
"We're looking for spaceflight to look a lot like flying a commercial airplane," Ferguson said during a Friday Reddit "Ask Me Anything" question-and answer-session. "It's safe and reliable, and provides transportation to space instead of another city."
Boe, Behnken and Hopkins served in the Air Force; Ferguson, Cassada, Williams and Glover in the Navy; and Mann and Hurley in the Marine Corps. These missions will be the first space flights for Cassada, Glover and Mann.
Here's how nine military officers landed on NASA's first-ever commercial spacecraft crews:
Retired Air Force Col. Eric Boe, Starliner's test flight
Boe was selected as an astronaut by NASA in 2000. He studied astronautical engineering at the U.S. Air Force Academy and earned his commission in 1987.
Before retiring from the Air Force in 2012, Boe logged more than 6,000 flight hours in more than 50 aircraft. He's flown two spaceflights, including one in which he expanded the living quarters on the International Space Station.
He's married with two children.
Boe told Reddit readers Friday that he'd love to go to Mars some day. "However, we have a few more years of research and development to get our spacecraft ready to see the red planet with humans (and hopefully me)."
Retired Navy Capt. Christopher Ferguson, Starliner's test flight
Ferguson reported to Johnson Space Center in Texas in 1998. He studied mechanical engineering at Drexel University and earned his commission in 1984.
He earned his Navy wings in 1986 and flew an F-14 Tomcat before logging 5,700 flight hours in more than 30 aircraft before he retired in 2010. Ferguson piloted and commanded space shuttles before retiring from NASA in 2011.
He's been an integral part of Boeing's CST-100 Starliner program. He is married with three children.
During the Reddit Q&A, Ferguson claimed to love space food on Earth and off. "But my favorite by far is crawfish etouffee."
Marine Lt. Col. Nicole Mann, Starliner's test flight
Mann was selected by NASA in 2013. She earned her commission in 1999 after studying mechanical engineering at the Naval Academy. She holds a master's degree in the same subject.
Mann serves as a test pilot for the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet and has deployed aboard aircraft carriers twice in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is her first space mission.
She's married with one child.
During Friday's Reddit chat, she stressed the importance of a solid education for those who want to pursue careers with NASA. "I think doing something you love and feel passionate about is important and will give you the drive to succeed. Don't forget to have fun while you are at it."
Air Force Col. Robert L. Behnken, Crew Dragon's test flight
Behnken joined NASA in 2000. He studied physics and mechanical engineering and entered the Air Force after graduate school.
He served as a flight-test engineer for the F-22 Raptor and has flown over 1,500 flight hours in more than 25 aircraft. He has also flown more than 700 hours in space.
Behnken said during the Reddit talk that the length of their first SpaceX mission is still being finalized. "[The International Space Station] is a busy place, so we have to make way for other traffic too. Right now, we are expecting two weeks to 30 days."
Retired Marine Col. Douglas Hurley, Crew Dragon's test flight
Hurley has been with NASA since 2000. He studied civil engineering at Tulane University and earned his commission in 1988.
He attended the Marine Corps' grueling Infantry Officers Course before heading to flight training in 1989. He flew F/A-18s and was the first Marine pilot to fly the F/A‐18 E/F Super Hornet. Hurley retired from the Corps after 24 years, having logged more than 5,500 hours in more than 25 aircraft.
He's piloted two spaceflights, and is married with one child.
Hurley said during Friday's Reddit session that the two commercial spacecraft these crews will fly are similar. "[The differences are] subtle. The way they are laid out and how they operate are slightly different. For example, the Starliner has three seats in row and one at the feet of the other three, while the Dragon has all four seats in a row."
Navy Cmdr. Josh Cassada, Starliner's first mission
Cassada was selected by NASA in 2013. He completed his doctorate in physics before becoming a naval aviator in 2000.
He's flown 23 combat missions in the P-3C Orion and served as a test pilot, accumulating more than 3,500 flight hours in over 40 aircraft.
This will be Cassada's first space mission. He is married with two children.
He said during the Reddit chat he's both excited and scared for the mission. "There's always risk in doing something worth doing. Courage is being afraid, but going anyway."
Retired Navy Capt. Sunita L. Williams, Starliner's first mission
Williams has been a NASA astronaut since 1998. She received her commission in 1987 after studying physical science at the U.S. Naval Academy.
She was a basic diving officer before reporting to Naval Aviation Training Command. She flew the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, eventually logging more than 3,000 flight hours in over 30 aircraft.
Williams, who is married, has spent 322 days in space on two missions. With 50 hours and 40 minutes, she ranks second on the list of total cumulative spacewalk time by a female astronaut.
After spending nearly a year in space, Williams told Reddit readers Friday that she learned how to make the most of the often-boring space food. "It is important to have a lot of selection in space food and ways to make it tasty. I specifically liked wasabi, garlic and pesto sauce to spice up my mundane food."
Navy Cmdr. Victor Glover Jr., Crew Dragon's first mission
Glover was selected as an astronaut in 2013 while serving as a legislative fellow in the U.S. Senate. He studied general and systems engineering.
After earning his commission, has served as a test pilot in the F/A‐18 Hornet, Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler. He has flown 24 combat missions, has more than 400 carrier-arrested landings, and has clocked 3,000 flight hours in more than 40 aircraft.
Glover is married with four children, and this is his first space mission.
He said during Friday's Reddit Q&A that he hopes these new flights show Americans that NASA is flying and operating in space. "It was said today that the Space Station has been continuously manned for almost 18 years, which means there's a whole generation of people coming into adulthood that have lived their whole lives under Americans living in space."
Air Force Col. Michael Hopkins, Crew Dragon's first mission
Hopkins was selected to be a NASA astronaut in 2009. He studied aerospace engineering and earned his commission in 1992.
He tested C-17 Globemaster and C-130 Hercules aircraft and later served with the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. He was selected as a special assistant to the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2008, where he stayed until he began astronaut training.
He has spent 166 days in space and is married with two children.
During Friday's Reddit chat, Hopkins was asked about the ultimate milestone for astronauts. "For many astronauts, the opportunity to go outside the space station on a spacewalk is about as ultimate as it gets."