News / Science & Technology

    NASA Announces Plans to Launch Astronauts From US

    Space station astronaut Donald Pettit (L) and another astronaut work inside the Dragon spacecraft after entering for the first time, a day after Dragon's heralded arrival as the world's first commercial supply ship, May 26, 2012.Space station astronaut Donald Pettit (L) and another astronaut work inside the Dragon spacecraft after entering for the first time, a day after Dragon's heralded arrival as the world's first commercial supply ship, May 26, 2012.
    x
    Space station astronaut Donald Pettit (L) and another astronaut work inside the Dragon spacecraft after entering for the first time, a day after Dragon's heralded arrival as the world's first commercial supply ship, May 26, 2012.
    Space station astronaut Donald Pettit (L) and another astronaut work inside the Dragon spacecraft after entering for the first time, a day after Dragon's heralded arrival as the world's first commercial supply ship, May 26, 2012.
    Suzanne Presto
    NASA has announced new agreements with U.S. companies to develop spacecraft so that astronauts once again can launch from the United States. The U.S. has not had that capability since it retired its space shuttle fleet last year. Now it looks like the launches could happen by the end of 2017.  

    NASA officials say U.S. reliance on Russia to carry American astronauts to the International Space Station could be over by the end of 2017.

    NASA Administrator Charles Bolden held a news conference Friday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

    "Today we're announcing another critical step toward launching our astronauts from U.S. soil on space systems built by American companies," said Bolden. "We've selected three companies to develop crew transportation capabilities as a fully integrated system and keep us on track to end the outsourcing of our human spaceflight program."

    The three companies are the California-based Space Exploration Technologies - commonly known an SpaceX - the Colorado-based Sierra Nevada Corporation and the Texas-based Boeing Company.

    "By keeping these three companies in the mix, we not only ensure competition, which is good for the taxpayers, but we're also guaranteeing that we never find ourselves in the situation we're in today - dependent on a sole provider to get our crews to space," said Bolden. "For the next 21 months, these partners will perform tests and complete designs. Through this initiative, NASA will help the private sector design and develop the human spaceflight capability that could ultimately lead to the availability of human spaceflight services for both government and commercial customers."

    Seven companies submitted proposals to NASA, and the space agency selected three to sign agreements. NASA says the three companies offer proven track records, as well as diversity. They have proposed two types of spacecraft - a capsule and a lifting body - and two types of launch vehicles - SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and the veteran Atlas V rocket. All three companies would primarily launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

    According to the agreements, companies are paid only when they meet set milestones. This so-called "pay for performance" plan helps keep taxpayer costs in check. Sierra Nevada Corporation could earn $212.5 million if it meets all nine milestones. Boeing Company could earn $460 million if it meets its 19 milestones.  And SpaceX could earn $440 million if it meets its 14 milestones.

    NASA already has a commercial cargo deal with SpaceX, which made history in May with its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon space capsule.  SpaceX is the first and only private company to send a commercial spacecraft to the International Space Station. Regular cargo transportation missions are planned to start later this year.  

    SpaceX plans to reconfigure the Dragon space capsule to accommodate astronauts.    

    During a follow-up conference call, NASA's director for commercial spaceflight development, Philip McAlister, said astronauts could launch to the space station from the U.S. in about five years.

    "NASA has put in our documents that we believe a 2017 date for operational missions to the ISS is a reasonable date," said McAlister.

    SpaceX says its crewed test flight could come as early as 2015, if everything flows smoothly.

    NASA's McAlister also praised the broader commercial development program, saying 2011 was the first time in more than two decades that there were no commercial launches from the United States. He said there will be two or three commercial cargo missions this year, solely because of NASA's public-private partnerships.

    "So if it weren't for NASA and our commercial spaceflight initiatives, we would have had another year - a second straight year - of zero commercial launches in an industry where we used to lead and have the majority," said McAlister. "So not only is it great for NASA and great for the International Space Station, but we're seeing these successes bleed over to national capabilities as well, which is something we're really pleased about."  

    NASA is investing in private companies to handle low-Earth orbit transportation so that the space agency can focus on developing the next generation of space vehicles.

    You May Like

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.