SpaceX Breaks Russia’s Near Decade-Long Monopoly on Sending Humans to Space

"Since 2011 the US had been buying seats on Russian Soyuz rockets to reach the ISS"

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has become the first private company to launch humans into orbit, after unsettled weather over the Kennedy Space Center in Florida cleared for long enough on Saturday afternoon to allow a second launch attempt to go ahead.

Nasa astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley became the first to fly in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, carried on top of one of the company’s Falcon 9 rockets towards a planned rendezvous with the International Space Station.

The launch, at 3.22pm local time, also marked the first time astronauts had been launched into orbit from US soil since the Space Shuttle programme ended in 2011. An earlier attempt on Wednesday was called off because of stormy conditions at launch time.

President Donald Trump and vice-president Mike Pence both made the trip to Florida for a second time in three days to witness the launch, as national attention switched briefly away from protests on the streets of Minneapolis. Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley compared the moment to the 1960s, when the country notched up a series of breakthroughs in space exploration during a period of domestic social upheaval. The SpaceX launch was a “morale boost” for the country after the unrest of recent days, he told CNN.

The Crew Dragon capsule is due to dock with the ISS some 19 hours after launch, where the astronauts will spend up to 119 days before attempting a return to earth for a splashdown landing at sea. If the test is successful, Nasa plans to send paying passengers on the SpaceX craft for the first time on August 30.

The agency was forced to turn to private companies to launch its astronauts into space after its own planned successor to the Space Shuttle was called off by the Obama White House. Since 2011, it has had to buy seats on Russian Soyuz rockets to reach the ISS, dealing a blow to the country’s self-image as the most advanced space power.

SpaceX has now become the first to complete a manned test of a privately developed and operated craft. Boeing, which was also awarded a contract under Nasa’s Commercial Crew programme, suffered technical problems during an unmanned test of its own craft earlier this year.

The use of private spacecraft is expected to bring down the cost of manned space flight as commercial incentives replace the traditional cost-plus development programmes Nasa has relied on in the past. Some experts predict the cost of launching an astronaut into orbit could fall to less than $10m over the next decade, far lower than the price of more than $90m that Nasa has had to pay for its most recent trips on Russian rockets.

The SpaceX launch is seen in the private space industry as an important step in the commercialisation of low earth orbit, the region up to 1,200 kms above the earth where the ISS and most satellites are located. The first customers for private space flight are expected to be other national governments looking to create their own manned space programmes. Space tourism is also expected to become far more common if prices fall as much as some predict.

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic both hope to begin their own flights for space tourists soon, though for now their companies are only planning brief trips into zero gravity, rather than sending passengers high enough to reach orbit.

Mr Musk and Mr Bezos both also play a key role in the White House’s hopes of putting Americans back on the moon. Their private space companies are among those that have been commissioned to look into building a moon lander as part of the proposed mission. Mr Trump has pushed Nasa to return to the moon before the end of 2024, potentially within a second Trump presidential term, though few space experts believe the timetable is realistic.

Source: Financial Times

  1. ke4ram says

    Fascism (the marriage of government and corporate) works!!!

    1. David McClintock says

      You are being sarcastic …

    2. carlo151 says

      That is also socialism.


      The French space program.

      German government supports German business.

      Government and business can work together and you do not need facism.

      The US already does it, as you point out, investment banks, also with our aircraft industry.

      It is only when benefits like healthcare come up when it is called socialism.

      1. plamenpetkov says

        in USA its always Socialism for the rich but capitalism for the poor.

        1. carlo151 says

          Billionaire buys a sports team and cities who have homeless sleeping on streets or subways borrow money to help out the billionaire team owner pay for a new stadium.
          The city leaders claim it will create jobs, the jobs are for the 8 to 10 home games a season in football.
          The jobs are selling beer and picking up trash, maybe shovel snow if in NY or Green Bay.

          1. David McClintock says

            I’m aghast people are so ignorant to believe the media. That entertainment (an economic drain by definition), football, stadiums etc, is a economic job “contributor”. I’ve had so many people tell me they are so excited the stadium is being built because it will “create jobs”.

  2. CEjU pronounce see_eye_ae says

    Given that SpaxeX S4 Rocket blew up the previous day, Musk and NASA have been playing Russian Roulette. This time it paid off…

    Soyuz still has an advance of 40 Years + operating safely with nearly a 100 launches against Musk’s single one.

    1. David McClintock says

      100 to 1? Are you serious? I did not know this.

  3. Undecider says

    You can bet your paycheck these won’t launch manned.

  4. voza0db says

    Who is paying for that?

    1. chris chuba says

      It’s free because it was done by the private sector. All NASA had to do was sign a $3B contract w/SpaceX and a $5B contract w/BOEING and cancel the one w/BOEING (bet that was free :-))

      1. itchyvet says

        W.T.F. ??? Quote, “t’s free because it was done by the private sector. All NASA had to do was sign a $3B contract w/SpaceX and a $5B contract w/BOEING” Unquote. How can it be “free” if it’s gonna cost $3B ?

        1. plamenpetkov says

          So communism works for big businesses. But USA always says communism is bad.

          1. disqus_3BrONUAJno says

            Those in power will say anything you will believe to insure your confirmation bias operates.

  5. chris chuba says

    NASA gave SpaceX a $3B contract to fly a total of 24 astronauts in round trip missions to the ISS

    This comes out to $150m per astronaut but fear not, using Pentagon math they subtract $1.2B for the R&D costs because you know what they say about the private sector, private profit, public losses. We will see if SpaceX actually fulfills this contract for this cost or not.

    There is something to be said for the U.S. having its own space program but crowing about the free market sector and pissing on Russian accomplishments in this area is definitely one of our less attractive features.

    1. voza0db says

      I’m wondering what will happen when a STS-51-L like event happens!…

  6. plamenpetkov says

    it’s high time for USA to stand on its own two feet and to stop relying on Russia to take it into space. Thank you.

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