America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) definitely had seen better days in terms of in-house manned spaceflight capabilities. Ever since retiring its entire space shuttle fleet in 2011, NASA had to rely on other space agencies to either deliver its astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), or on commercial spaceflight companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX to deliver satellites and ISS resupplies. On that front, SpaceX is developing a manned crew delivery system for NASA, although recently both the company and the space agency have shown signs of conflict. But that was two weeks ago, and it seems they are back in track if their latest announcement holds true.
The Verge reports that a joint statement by NASA and SpaceX would indicate that not only is their partnership to use the latter’s spacecraft to ferry the former’s astronauts to the International Space Station still intact, but that they could start doing so as early as next year. Of interesting note was that SpaceX boss Elon Musk and NASA administrator Jim Brindenstine who made the joint announcement, when only late last month they were giving each other some negative press.
But while Brindenstine was visiting SpaceX he and Musk told journalists covering the occasion that they were in agreement with the latest undertakings of the private aerospace company. “The one thing we have under development that is of the highest priority is launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” says the NASA administrator, aware their agency has had to lean much on Russia and its Soyuz program for astronaut travel to and from the ISS. That is where SpaceX comes in as Musk adds, “Human spaceflight is the reason that SpaceX was created, and we’re incredibly honored to partner with NASA…And just to make this happen, this is a dream come true, really.”
NASA through its Commercial Crew program has been working with civilian companies to develop transport hardware for US astronaut use, with parallel programs being worked on by SpaceX and Boeing so as to finally save the agency an average $50 million being paid to the Russian space corporation (Roscosmos) to reserve seats on Soyuz space flights. The program however has had delays of its own, missing the early crew flights deadline of 2017. SpaceX’s Commercial Crew capsule, the Crew Dragon, has had one successful unmanned docking with the ISS but later exploded during a ground trial, necessitating further testing delays.
It is hoped by both Elon Musk and Jim Brindenstine that SpaceX’s remaining trails for the rest of the year will go off without hitches, so that the Crew Dragon can carry its first astronauts to the ISS by 2020.
Image from New York Times