Despite many billions of dollars spent on the United States space program, NASA hasn’t flown astronauts on an American ship since Atlantis in July 2011. What’s more, there hasn’t been a manned mission to the moon since the Apollo 17 program in 1972, just after the peak of the space race era.
Now, NASA is aiming to launch commercial spaceflights to tackle the growing space race developing around the globe. NASA hopes that their new flights will take them above lower earth orbit (despite claims they had already achieved this milestone in the 1960s).
NASA are aiming to send four astronauts into space next year, and according to click2houston.com, we’re on the cusp of a new era where astronauts will fly on spacecraft built in the US, built by American companies.
Boeing and SpaceX are both working on crafts for NASA and the projects are currently on target to meet delivery quotas. Boeing is busy working on the ‘Starliner’ spacecraft, while SpaceX is working on the ‘Crew Dragon’.
SpaceX is currently leading this ‘US space race’ and has scheduled an unmanned test flight in November. It hopes to put four astronauts on the craft in May 2018 for a publicized commercial flight.
Boeing is running slightly behind and hopes to launch an unmanned test in June 2018 and put a NASA astronaut into space by September of the same year.
Both flights will launch from Florida’s Space Coast and will take their passengers to the international space station (ISS). While these private contractors are working with NASA to take their astronauts onto the ISS, NASA has received $19 billion of funding signed off by President Trump for spaceflights to Mars.
As part of the funding approval guidelines, the Trump administration has pushed NASA to take their next test flight with astronauts, and that could be as early as next year. “Now this nation is ready to be the first in space once again,” Trump said at the time of signing the order. “We’re taking the first steps toward a bold and bright new future for American spaceflight.”
NASA has already begun its Mars program. It has tested an unmanned Orion vehicle during the Mars mission, and are also doing human tests on earth within environments like those on the red planet.
There is a growing space race emerging globally, not just within the United States. Elon Musk’s SpaceX project is planning to send two paying tourists into space, around the moon and back to earth by the end of next year.
“Now this nation is ready to be the first in space once again”
According to the New York Times, if SpaceX can pull this off then it will be the first in 40 years to send people that far into space. Musk is confident the project will go ahead and insists this mission will swing into action toward the end of 2018.
British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson is also attempting commercial space flight with his Virgin Galactic project. Private Russian agencies, along with the European Space Agency, China and Japan are all attempting credible space projects, and the race is well and truly on.
Space travel is a bold idea that costs vast sums of money and takes an extremely long time to come to fruition. There are many challenges that are still too great for Earth scientists to solve, and the reality of how far humans can travel into space is still to be realized. Over the next few years, it remains to be seen just what we can achieve in terms of space exploration, but as many would agree it’s about time we did something great again!