NASA’s Launch America program plans to end American space transportation dependence on Russia by 2017
by Noah Solomon
NASA awarded two contracts worth up to a combined 6.8 Billion USD to aeronautics and commercial space flight giants Boeing and Space X on September 16th. The two companies will provide a space taxi for the agency in the form of Boeing’s CST-100 and Space X’s Crew Dragon spacecraft with the goal of ending America’s reliance on the Russian Soyuz capsules by 2017. NASA administrator Charlie Bolden said at the NASA press release at the Kennedy Space Center that President Obama made it clear that, “The greatest nation on Earth should not be dependent on other nations to get into space”. Bolden stated that the agency is one step closer to launching US astronauts on American made spacecraft today and that through turning over low earth orbit missions to commercial spacecraft NASA will be able to focus on more ambitious goals such as sending humans to Mars.
The two corporations will have to subject their craft to NASA certification and presuming the crafts meet all of the requirements, NASA plans to use these spacecraft to ferry American astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Once each corporation’s system has met the requirements they will perform between two and six crewed mission to the ISS and the craft will function as a lifeboat for astronauts stationed at the low gravity laboratory. The companies will still own their craft and are allowed to sell human space transit to customers other than NASA in an attempt to drive the price of commercial space flight down.
NASA has long been a technological and scientific innovator and they are now able to call themselves American business motivators. The field of commercial space flight is very new and still very much in its development phase but NASA has made a huge step today. In addition the deal will save money for NASA through decreasing reliance on Russian Soyuz capsules. While the Soyuz are very reliable, they cost about 70 million USD per seat on a ride up to the ISS and at any time the Russians could just say no. The new craft will not only give America an independent method of low earth orbit transportation but will also reduce the cost of those trips and represents an exciting and promising future for American made spacecraft and American space exploration.
“NASA Chooses American Companies to Transport U.S. Astronauts to International Space Station.” NASA. NASA, 16 Sept. 2014. Web. 18 Sept. 2014. <http://www.nasa.gov/press/2014/september/nasa-chooses-american-companies-to-transport-us-astronauts-to-international/#.VBpbli6wKwI>.
Image: ISS_after_STS-118_in_August_2007.jpg (Wikimedia Commons)