SpaceX’s first Crew Dragon is seen at the International Space Station just before docking on 3 March 2019 during the Demo-1 test flight. Image credit: NASA TV
The United States’ long human-spaceflight drought may not last much longer.
American astronauts have had to rely solely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get to and from orbit since July 2011, when NASA retired its space shuttle fleet. (Suborbital space is a different story: Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo has made two crewed trips to that realm since December 2018.)
NASA wants private American vehicles to end this dependence and has been encouraging their development via its Commercial Crew Program. In September 2014, NASA awarded £2 billion ($2.6 billion) to SpaceX and £3.4 billion ($4.2 billion) to Boeing to finish work on their astronaut taxis — capsules called Crew Dragon and the CST-100 Starliner, respectively. At the time, NASA officials said they wanted at least one of these vehicles to be up and running by the end of 2017.
That didn’t happen, of course. But Crew Dragon is now nearly ready, NASA chief Jim Bridenstine and SpaceX founder Elon Musk said on 10 October 2019 during an event at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, ...