Video courtesy of AmericaSpace
TALLAHASSEE, Fla — AmericaSpace spoke with Trent Smith with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. He detailed the basics behind efforts to cede responsibility of delivering crew and cargo to low-Earth orbit (LEO), primarily to the International Space Station, to commercial companies. Under this plan, this should allow NASA to focus on sending crews beyond Earth’s influence for the first time in over forty years.
NASA currently has a two-pronged strategy in place in terms of its future human space flight program. The first half, the commercial segment, would handle operations in LEO. This would be comprised of companies such as SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and The Boeing Company.
The second half involves a powerful new heavy-lift booster, the Space Launch System, and the Orion spacecraft. These vehicles are currently being developed and built to send astronauts to destinations that, excluding the Moon, have never been visited before.
“Some folks think that we can have one without the other—this isn’t the case,” said Bob Cabana, a four-time space shuttle veteran and the current Director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
In some ways, the current issues with NASA’s commercial efforts are similar to another situation faced by the space agency between the Apollo era and the space shuttle program. The shuttle was proposed as being one-half of a two-part “shuttle-station” duo.
However, then as now, budgetary woes interfered. NASA was told to either choose the shuttle or station—but they could not do both. Hoping that the financial situation would eventually turn around, the space agency opted to build the shuttle first. From the time of the first space shuttle mission in 1980, until the space shuttle’s first flight to orbiting components of what had morphed into the International Space Station, some 18 years had elapsed.
During the closing ceremonies of Florida Space Day, Cabana expressed optimism that the current budget cuts to NASA’s commercial program would be hammered out and that NASA’s commercial crew program could get back on track. As for Smith, he reinforced the concept that NASA should not be forced to choose between either maintaining access to LEO or returning to the business of space exploration.
“I look at SLS as a ‘rocket to anywhere,’ but we need these commercial companies to maintain our presence on the International Space Station, which I view as a stepping stone out to destinations out in the solar system,” Smith added.
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