SpaceX, Boeing to carry out human spaceflights in mid-2019
After several delays, Elon Musk's SpaceX will carry out its first human spaceflight in June 2019 by sending astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on board one of its rockets, confirmed NASA. Additionally, a Boeing spacecraft will also carry out a human spaceflight in August 2019. If successful, they would mark the first crewed mission aboard US-manufactured rockets since 2011. Here's more.
Unmanned test missions will precede the actual human spaceflights
It's worth noting that unmanned test missions will precede the planned human spaceflights. SpaceX's first test flight - Demo 1 - using its Crew Dragon spacecraft is scheduled for December 2018, but the launch is expected to take place in January owing to limited docking space on the ISS. Meanwhile, Boeing's is targeting March 2019 for its Orbital Test Flight using its CST-100 Starliner.
In 2014, SpaceX and Boeing were awarded contracts by NASA
In 2014, SpaceX and Boeing were awarded contracts by NASA worth a total of $6.8bn to develop spacecraft capable of transporting crews to the International Space Station (ISS). Since then, both companies have made significant strides in the development of a new generation of crew transport spacecraft in partnership with NASA's Commercial Crew Program. However, both companies saw their launches postponed several times.
Why the launches are particularly significant for the US
Now, however, NASA has promised monthly updates on the aforementioned launch deadlines. The launches are significant for the US, which currently uses Russian Soyuz spacecraft to transport its astronauts to the ISS. That contract, however, is set to expire in 2019, and self-reliance in space is something the US is hoping to achieve using SpaceX and Boeing's new spacecraft.
NASA official explains that launch dates might be flexible
"This new process for reporting our [launch] schedule [monthly] is better; nevertheless, launch dates will still have some uncertainty, and we anticipate they may change as we get closer to launch," said Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA.
NASA has already named astronauts for the manned spaceflight(s)
Anticipating SpaceX and Boeing's success, NASA, in August, had announced the names of nine astronauts, including Indian-origin astronaut Sunita Williams, for its first manned spaceflight since 2011. "For the first time since 2011, we are on the brink of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine had said back then.