There have been some real tragedies in the civilian aerospace industry in the past few months, with the worst being the fatal crash of Virgin’s Spaceship Two, but SpaceX is one company that has not lost momentum. The recent loss of a government aerospace contract to Lockheed and Boeing put a bit of a hitch in the company’s step, but for the most part it has continued undeterred. Now, it has one of its biggest milestones yet, as the company’s plan to use its Dragon crew capsule for manned missions has been given the preliminary go-ahead by NASA. They’ve looked at the plans and they’ve done the math — with the help of SpaceX NASA is now on its way to regaining the ability to launch astronauts into space off of US soil.
The launch plan itself features two of SpaceX’s flagship products, the Falcon 9 rocket design and the Dragon manned capsule. This is the same Dragon capsule that SpaceX wants to use as the basis for a crew module on an eventual Mars mission, but for now it’s being proposed for the much smaller job of getting crew to and from the International Space Station. It’s the culmination of several unmanned cargo missions, which saw an empty Dragon capsule dock with the ISS and deliver much needed food and experimental material.
Up until at least 2017, NASA will have to continue relying on foreign partners for such missions, particularly facilities in Russia. Despite early worries that we were dealing with a “hostage situation” in space, it seems cooler heads have prevailed in the use of space as a means for global political maneuvering — but it would still be best not to have to rely on the forbearance of Vladimir Putin to resupply astronauts in an orbiting tin can. More than that, NASA is in the midst of a huge efficiency restructuring, as it examines virtually every aspect of its mission profiles to see what could be done better, quicker, and cheaper. Being able to plan, build, and launch large scale manned missions domestically will help reduce variables and costs to a much more manageable point.
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NASA Commercial Crew Human Spaceflight Program for Transport to the International Space Station (ISS): SpaceX Dragon and Boeing CST-100 Contracts, Safety Reviews, History and Update Reports
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