Since the Shuttle was retired in 2011 the US lacked any manned spaceflight capabilities. While private companies rush to launch commercial space flights, the plans seem to hang in the air for now. A report published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) looks discouraging: the main two space race contenders SpaceX and Boeing are unlikely to launch a manned flight in 2019.
The Commercial Crew Program was started in 2010, a year before the last Space Shuttle flight. SpaceX and Boeing were selected as prime candidates charged with the development of manned flight systems for NASA. While the venture seemed promising at first a rigorous and severe evaluation process has delayed the projects for years. Boeing settled on a crew pod called the CST-100, an improved version based on the Apollo command modules. Improving upon its successful cargo vehicle, which is also reusable, SpaceX developed the Dragon v2, which will also be reusable and more cost-effective in the long run.
According to the GAO report NASA has to be sure every part of the ship is secure, down to nuts and bolts, before it will allow astronauts to board them. This does not rule out the fact that the vehicles may be ready until 2019. But they will remain grounded until NASA specialists certify them to be safe. An unnamed customer was supposed to visit space this year using a vehicle provided by SpaceX but the event has been delayed. Space transit is possible b using the Soyuz capsules offered by the Russian Space agency. While they allow American astronauts to board them, each sit has to be paid for, and the price is pretty steep. American astronauts are also tied to the Russian’s timetable, as they sell sits to astronauts from other countries, and must wait for their turn.
The most optimistic estimation for an American launch made by the GAO is before August 2020, but it remains to be seen if the vehicles pass the tests.
As our second lead editor, Anna C. Mackinno provides guidance on the stories Great Lakes Ledger reporters cover. She has been instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. If you see a particularly clever title, you can likely thank Anna. Anna received a BA and and MA from Fordham University.