NASA’s monopoly on American astronaut activities in low earth orbit ended with the final Space Shuttle flight in July 2011. Wednesday’s planned Crew Dragon launch is a partnership between the government and the commercial sector when it comes to crewed space flight.
NASA astronauts will fly to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. It will launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket.
While this mission gives America the opportunity to launch astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time in almost a decade, it also ends American dependence and having to pay the Russians to ferry our astronauts to the ISS. Over the past 20 years it paid Russia $20 billion for the privilege.
This also gives the United States the opportunity to increase the number of crew members on board the International Space Station.
“We need to makes sure we keep it crewed, and not just crewed but we need to make sure that it has its maximum complement of crews so we can get the highest return on investment from this $100 billion investment provided by the American taxpayer,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “And that’s what commercial crew is all about. This is a new generation, a new era in human space flight and when I say it’s new, what I mean is NASA has long had this idea that we need to purchase, own and operate hardware to get to space and in the past that has been true. But now in this new era, NASA, especially in low Earth orbit, NASA has an ability to be a customer.”
SPECIAL SECTION: Launch America
This mission is also a step toward the future and the opportunity to expand the human footprint in space and to eventually focus on the exploration of the moon and Mars.
Kirk Sireman, International Space Station program manager said, “Commercialization is a big effort on board the International Space Station. We’re working with commercial partners developing facilities, testing modules. Today we already transport cargo commercially and very soon, of course, we’re looking forward to transport our crews commercially.”
“This launch is our next step towards increasing American and really, human presence on board the laboratory at the ISS,” Sireman said. “It really is critical, we’re very much interested int significantly increasing the amount of crew time and the amount of through-put that we can do this valuable research that we can do on board the ISS. Things that can’t be done anywhere else, certainly on the planet.”
NASA says that while this mission is just the beginning, it wants the partnerships it is developing to bring about competition, innovation and research.