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

At International AIDS Conference One Goal, Many Paths

The 12,000 delegates attending 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne have vastly different visions about how to eradicate disease More

Disasters May Doom Malaysia’s Flag Carrier

Even before loss of two jets loaded with passengers on international flights, company had been operating in red for three years, accumulating deficit of $1.3 billion More

Afghan Presidential Vote Audit Continues Despite Glitches

Process has been marred by walkouts by representatives of two competing candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Agei
X
Elizabeth Lee
July 20, 2014 2:36 AM
Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.
Video

Video Diplomatic Crisis Grows Over MH17 Plane Crash

The Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine is drawing reaction from leaders around the world. With suspicions growing that a surface-to-air missile shot down the aircraft, there are increasing tensions in the international community over who is to blame. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Undocumented Immigrants Face Perilous Journey to US, No Guarantees

Every day, hundreds of undocumented immigrants from Central America attempt the arduous journey through Mexico and turn themselves over to U.S. border patrol -- with the hope that they will not be turned away. But the dangers they face along the way are many, and as Ramon Taylor reports from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, their fate rests on more than just the reception they get at the US border.
Video

Video Scientists Create Blackest Material Ever

Of all the black things in the universe only the infamous "black holes" are so black that not even a tiny amount of light can bounce back. But scientists have managed to create material almost as black, and it has enormous potential use. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Fog Collector Transforming Maasai Water Harvesting in Kenya

The Maasai people of Kenya are known for their cattle-herding, nomadic lifestyle. But it's an existence that depends on access to adequate water for their herds and flocks. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA, on a "fog collector."

AppleAndroid