|Arthur Dominic Villasanta |||May 13, 2016 11:37 AM EDT|
(Photo : SpaceX/Boeing) The Dragon spacecraft from SpaceX (left) and its competitor, Boeing's CST-100 Starliner.
The first commercial space race is all but over. Boeing's recent announcement it was delaying to 2018 from 2017 the first crewed flight of its CST-100 Starliner means SpaceX and its Dragon spacecraft has all but won the race spawned by NASA's Commercial Crew Program.
Elon Musk's SpaceX remains on track to send its Dragon V2 with its first crew of NASA astronauts on a 14-day mission to the International Space Station (ISS) by April 2017. On the other hand, a crewed flight carrying one NASA astronaut and one Boeing test pilot to the ISS originally set for 2017 is now scheduled for February 2018.
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SpaceX is still scheduled to send an uncrewed flight of its Dragon spacecraft to the ISS in December 2016 followed by its first crewed flight test to the ISS. The crewed version of Dragon is called the Dragon V2.
The only thing or things that can prevent SpaceX from crossing the finish line first would be a set of unexpected circumstances similar to the ones that derailed Boeing's bid. In Boeing's case, these were a series of technical issues and new requirements from NASA.
"We're working towards our first unmanned flight in 2017 followed by a manned astronaut flight in 2018," said Leanne Caret, Boeing executive vice president, confirming the delay.
Despite acknowledging the delay, Caret still hopes Boeing will be the first company to fly its commercial crew vehicle.
"It is our vision that the CST-100 will be the first of the new American capsules to take astronauts to space," she said.
Which is another way of saying she wishes something will derail SpaceX winning this race. And there's a chance that might occur, as Boeing can attest to in this case.
The last American spacecraft to travel to the ISS was the space shuttle Atlantis. The space shuttle also flew the last shuttle mission on July 21, 2011, capping close to 30 years of spectacular missions that began on April 12, 1981 when Columbia took to space.
Since then, the U.S. has been paying the Russians to fly Americans to the ISS on Russian Soyuz capsules at some $70 million a passenger.
SpaceX has already achieved notable firsts in this space race against Boeing. On May 25, 2012, a Dragon spacecraft became the first commercial spacecraft to successfully rendezvous with and attach to the ISS. Previously, in December 2010, Dragon became the first commercially built and operated spacecraft to be recovered successfully from orbit.
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