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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs