Delays In NASA Commercial Crew Program Impede Astronaut Launches To ISS

Christopher Davidson
July 13, 2018

The report warns that "without a viable contingency option for ensuring uninterrupted access to the ISS in the event of further commercial crew delays, we concluded that NASA is at risk of not being able to maximize the return of its multibillion-dollar investment in the space station". Since its last launch from the United States back in 2011, NASA has been paying Russian Federation up to $82 million per seat on the Soyuz.

SpaceX and Boeing Co are the two main contractors selected under the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's commercial crew program to send US astronauts to space as soon as 2019, using their Dragon and Starliner spacecraft respectively. It's obviously crucial that both companies get things right, and if delays mean safe travel in the future, it'll be worth the wait.

In a July 11 report, GAO noted that SpaceX and Boeing could miss current schedules of having commercial crew capsules certified by NASA by one year or more.

"The process for manufacturing the spacecraft and contracting for those seats typically takes three years - meaning additional seats would not be available before 2021", it said.

NASA ended the USA space shuttle program in 2011 and has relied on Russian rockets since then to carry United States astronauts to the space station.

The Congressional watchdog agency also detected deficiencies in safety and risk assessment in the new spacecraft.

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NASA's human explorations chief, William Gerstenmaier, said the space agency is actively working on options to keep Americans living and working, uninterrupted, at the station.

SpaceX and Boeing have been vying to be the first to return Americans to space from USA soil since 2014, three years after NASA's shuttle program ended.

The 2 companies were engaged by the U.S. space agency NASA in 2014 to develop rockets that could transport astronauts to the space station when the current contract with Russia's Soyuz expires in November 2019.

The SpaceX capsule is a beefed-up, human-rated version of the Dragon capsule already used to deliver cargo; Boeing's craft is named Starliner.

Each company plans a test flight without passengers, before putting astronauts on board.

The Russian spacecraft "Progress MS-09" managed to reach the International Space Station (ISS) in record time, thanks to a new mechanism.

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