NASA is aiming for the Moon . . . literally. The aeronautics and aerospace agency may begin launching astronauts from the United States next year using spacecraft developed by commercial companies under contract with NASA.
“For the first time since 2011, we are on the brink of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” says NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
Nine astronauts hope to ride the SpaceX Dragon and Boeing Starliner capsules—five on the first crew flights and four on the second round of missions to the ISS. Presently, U.S. astronauts must hitch rides on Russian capsules to the space station—at a price of about $82 million a seat!
“We’re ushering in this new era of American spaceflight. I really think it’s just the beginning,” says Naval aviator Nicole Aunapu Mann. She will make her first trip into space on the first Starliner crew.
Former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson says the new capsules will have a higher emphasis on safety than previous vehicles did. He compared it to flying an iPhone—with a minimal number of switches compared with 3,000 switches in the old shuttle cockpit.
“This is truly an exciting time for human spaceflight in our nation,” says Bob Cabana, a former shuttle commander who now heads Kennedy Space Center.
SpaceX and Boeing are shooting for a test flight of their capsules by the end of this year or early next. Lord willing, the first crews will fly from Cape Canaveral, Florida, by next spring or summer.
(AP Photo: Astronaut Victor Glover cheers during a NASA event to announce astronauts assigned to crew the first flight tests and missions of the Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Dragon.)