NASA Moving Forward As It Looks To Return Manned Space Missions Launching From US Soil
January 28, 2013

NASA Moving Forward As It Looks To Return Manned Space Missions Launching From US Soil

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

NASA announced that it is taking the next steps in trying to get back to launching astronauts from U.S. soil. The space agency said that three companies are now conducting activities that will confirm U.S.-based commercial spacecraft are safe to carry crews to the International Space Station (ISS).

Through May 30, 2014, three companies will be working under contract with NASA's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) to develop products to implement the agency's flight safety and performance standards and requirements.

The Certification Products Contracts (CPC) will establish standards across all aspects of commercial crew systems, including design of the spacecraft, launch vehicles, and ground and mission operations.

NASA said CCP will provide the U.S. with its own transportation capabilities to the Space Station. Since the retirement of the space shuttle program in 2011, NASA has had to rely on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft for transportation to the orbiting outpost.

"Throughout the phases of this program, we've really been creating a capability for the nation to use for low-Earth orbit transportation," Ed Mango, CCP manager at Kennedy Space Center, said in a statement. "As we create that capability, then NASA will become a customer so that we can move our flight crew to the International Space Station and continue our critical science."

Contractors working on the spacecraft include Boeing, United Launch Alliance, Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX. The vehicles the contractors are working on include the CST-100 spacecraft, Dream Chaser, and a modified version of SpaceX's Dragon capsule.

NASA hopes the new crew transportation vehicles will provide safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from low-Earth orbit.

While the U.S. space agency is working with companies to develop vehicles for low-Earth orbit, NASA is working on its first spacecraft to travel farther distances than ever before.

"We have a complementary, dual strategy at NASA," said Phil McAlister, director of NASA's Commercial Spaceflight Development at Headquarters in Washington. “We're letting the private sector take a little bit more responsibility for low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station cargo re-supply and crew transportation while NASA retains its more traditional role in the deep space exploration part.”

President Barack Obama said his hopes are for America to be putting a man on Mars sometime during the 2030s. The vehicle currently in development at NASA for long-duration flights could take man both to Mars, and asteroids.