NASA has sent a work order to SpaceX for a manned mission scheduled for late 2017. The privately owned company will use the Crew Dragon spacecraft to send astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). It will be the second in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. Boeing is another privately owned company that is planning to send astronauts to the ISS. It received a similar work order from NASA in May this year. The work order will ensure that both the companies have enough time to prepare for the launch of the missions. It is still undecided which of the two companies will be the first private company to carry astronauts into space.
Kathy Lueders, Manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program said, “It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions.” She added, “It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan.”
SpaceX’s rockets were earlier grounded after an unmanned rocket exploded in June. The rocket in question was carrying supplies for the ISS. At the time, SpaceX and NASA had said that the disaster would help ensure the safely of future passengers and work out the kinks before an actual manned mission. SpaceX and Boeing vehicles will still need to go through rigorous testings and certification procedures before they are deemed safe for astronauts.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft by SpaceX has a very minimalistic design with four windows. The seats are made out of carbon fibre and alcantara cloth and the Environmental Control and Life Support System will ensure that the interior of the spacecraft remain safe and comfortable. The spacecraft can not only be controlled by astronauts, but also by SpaceX mission control located in Hawthorne, California.
Additionally, NASA plans on using a modified Crew Dragon space capsule for the Red Dragon project, which aims to bring back rock samples from Mars. The project could launch in 2022 and was earlier expected to cost $6 billion, but using SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule would significantly reduce the cost. Andy Gonzales of NASA’s Ames Research Center in California said that the Red Dragon is “technically feasible with the use of these emerging commercial technologies, coupled with technologies that already exist."
Source: Popular Science
Image Source: SpaceX