U.S. Manned Space Status - Page 1
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 and a manned lunar facility.
Commercial Crew Development (CCD), Commercial Space Transportation (CST) and ROSCOSMOS. 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 multiple times with increasing cost. In 2017 SPACENEWS reported that the total cost averaged out to roughly $70 million a seat. Wikipedia has additonal information on CCD and CST.
From Mercury through the ISS and beyond NASA has always partnered with the commercial sector sharing technology and funding. On the commercial side Sierra Nevada continued to refine the DREAM CHASER. Gains by Lockheed-Martin and Boeing are based on their long standing relationship with NASA and the Department of Defense. Additionally Lockheed-Martin and Boeing partnered into creating the United Launch Alliance (ULA) and both hold very prominent positions in the United States space inventory. Bigelow Aerospace has the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) ported to the ISS and is working towards much more. SpaceX, Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and Sierra Nevada are working on crewed space vehicles. As of December 2017 only SpaceX of these entities has had multiple flights to the ISS.
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. Rocket and manned crew technology had both been developed. 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.