Post-Space Shuttle, Private Space Race

Long after the United States and the Soviet Union put their Cold War space race to bed, another cosmic competition is heating up. This one is taking place in the private sector.


What's the Latest Development?

When the Atlantis space shuttle touches down at Florida's Kennedy Space Center today, the nation will cease to have a program that puts humans into space. In the short term, N.A.S.A. will rely on Russian Soyuz vehicles to fly astronauts to the International Space Station (I.S.S.), but the American space agency wants the American private sector to assume that responsibility as quickly and as safely as possible. Boeing is set to launch two of its own test pilots to the I.S.S. by 2015 and be able to complete operational missions by the end of that year. 

What's the Big Idea?

N.A.S.A. recognizes the power of the private industry. The space agency has funded four private companies to develop new technologies: Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corp., Blue Origin and SpaceX. But it is not only government funded projects that have taken off in recent years. The Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp. is developing a space vehicle it hopes to launch by 2014; Excalibur Almaz plans to cut down on R&D costs by re-purposing old Soviet space vehicle designs. N.A.S.A., now free of the costly shuttle program, is free to pursue other missions: landing astronauts on an asteroid and on Mars by 2025 and by the 2030s, respectively. 

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