U.S. Manned Space Status - Page 1

A brief recap from the Bush (2001-2008) through Obama (2009-present) administrations.

In light of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) report (August 2003) it was determined that the remaining shuttles would be retired when the International Space Station (ISS) was declared complete (July 2011).  Retirement of the Shuttles meant that the United States would also no longer be able to launch our own people into space.

Based on the NASA Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS) in mid-2005 Bush supported the Constellation program that included the Orion crew module, the Altair lunar lander, the Ares I and Ares V rockets.  An Ares I test launch was successful on October 2009.

The Constellation program was focused on a return to the Moon with the capability of providing astronaut transport to the ISS.  I personally felt it was a 40-year back-step except one of the program's objectives was a manned lunar facility.

ROSCOSMOS and the Commercial Crew Development (CCD).  President Bush authorized a new program called the Commercial Crew Development (CCD) under Commercial Space Transportation (CST) to transport our astronauts as a partner to NASA.  As the United States would not have the ability to launch our own astronauts for several years a new contract was made with ROSCOSMOS for millions of dollars to transport our astronauts to the ISS until the CST was operational.  The NASA contract with ROSCOSMOS has been modified several times.  Contract (Release C11-013) was at $753 million dollars for transportaton (and other things) of 12 astronauts, 6 in 2014 and 6 in 2015.  This equated to $62.75 million dollars per astronaut.  This contract will expire on June 30, 2016.  NASA news release C13-027 stated "a $424 million modification to its contract with ROSCOSMOS to "cover crew transportation" for 6 astronauts "with return and rescue services extending through June 2017."  SPACENEWS reported that the total cost averaged out to roughly $70 million a seat.  This action was taken to give the commercial sector time to develop manned launch capability under the Commercial Crew Program of Commercial Space Transportation.

In 2010 the Commercial Crew Development (CCD) began with Obama changing the scope of the program saying it would be more economical to have the "commercial" vs the nation launch our people into space.  This shift can result from national astronauts being replaced by commercial ones.  I object to this as it shifts any national prestige to the commercial (corporate) sector.

From Mercury through the ISS and beyond NASA has always partnered with the commercial sector sharing technology and funding.  Obamas approach has severed that partnership.  Sierra Nevada to continue refining the DREAM CHASER has teamed up with the European Space Agency (ESA).  Independently entities like SpaceX and Bigelow are making great strides on their own based on technology developed under NASA and ROSCOSMOS.  Gains by Lockheed-Martin and Boeing are based on their long standing relationship with NASA and the Department of Defense.  Independently and together as the United Launch Alliance (ULA) they hold  very prominent positions in the United States space inventory.

To date SpaceX, Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and Sierra Nevada have developed crewed space vehicles.  Late this year (2014) Lockheed-Martin is expected to have its first unmanned orbital test of ORION.

Can the commercial sector create a crew vehicle and launch rockets cheaper than what it has cost NASA using the Space Shuttle?  The answer is OF COURSE.  The Space Shuttle was created to be a workhorse to launch both large modules and crew for construction of the ISS, launching and recovery of satellites, servicing the Hubble Space Telescope and more.  Safety regulations and hardware changes after the loss of two shuttles forced additional budgeting rises that the commercial sector has not experienced - YET.  The USAF may have seen this coming and responded with the X-37B.

Page revision date: May 31, 2015