Washington is looking to further enhance its space missions. It is looking to launch humans to space from American soil for the first time since 2011.
But as CGTN’s Steve Mort reports, several obstacles still need be overcome.
SpaceX has been carrying equipment and supplies to the International Space Station since 2012 and now NASA how hopes the company, along with its competitor Boeing, can begin taking humans into orbit as early as this year.
“NASA has basically placed its bet on Boeing and SpaceX,” Roger Handberg, a Space Policy Expert from the University of Central Florida said. “And now it’s time for them to roll the dice and see what happens.”
SpaceX hopes to launch its Crew Dragon capsule on an unmanned test mission in March. Boeing will follow with its Starliner craft, possibly in April.
The launches will be scrutinized closely by NASA which has contracted SpaceX and Boeing to fly astronauts to the International Space Station.
After their initial test flights, both companies will have to carry out additional tests to make sure they can safely abort a launch if things go wrong.
SpaceX has suffered a series of setbacks in the past, including the loss of a rocket during launch.
“The argument that the private sector gives is that we can do it faster and cheaper. But faster and cheaper maybe more hazardous,” Handberg said.”Failure is not an option when we’re taking about crew. But failure is always a possibility.”
Despite the risks, space journalist Brendan Byrne said a failed launch for Russia’s Soyuz rocket in November has prompted urgency at NASA to resume U.S. flights.
“That’s what this test mission is for,” Byrne said. “It is to go and prove that this technology works and that NASA’s confident that there will be no risk to a crew in the future.”
Also looming large over the mission; another potential government shutdown. The vast majority of NASA staff was furloughed during the 35-day shutdown, impacting operations at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center where SpaceX and Boeing will test their crew vehicles.
The state agency responsible for boosting commercial space investment is calling for the government to scale back its involvement in managing America’s launch infrastructure.
Space Florida said government shutdown uncertainty makes space travel less attractive to the private industry.
“Right now, they are at the mercy of political food fights in Congress, and that’s a terrible business model,” said Dale Ketcham from Space Florida.