NASA needs backup plan as USA crew launches slip

NASA has been paying Russian Federation up to $82 million a seat to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from the ISS.

Boeing and SpaceX are unlikely to be able to send astronauts to the International Space Station next year, according to a U.S. government audit report, resulting in a possible gap in the United States presence on the spacecraft.

SpaceX and Boeing Co are the two main contractors selected under the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's commercial crew program to send USA astronauts to space as soon as 2019, using their Dragon and Starliner spacecraft respectively.

Boeing said it was aiming for test flights this year.

That's the top suggestion in the GAO's latest report on the SpaceX and Boeing crew capsules under development.

NASA would love to stop having to rely on Russian Federation to send its astronauts into space, but realizing that dream means that someone needs to step up to the plate with a safe, reliable crew transportation system.

"The process for manufacturing the spacecraft and contracting for those seats typically takes three years - meaning additional seats would not be available before 2021", it said.

The audit also found that NASA lacks a consistent approach in gauging crew risk in these new spacecraft. And in a statement, NASA's human exploration chief, William Gerstenmaier, says the agency is actively working on options to keep Americans living and working, uninterrupted, at the station.

Delays in NASA's commercial crew program could impede the planned astronaut launches to the ISS from American soil, a new GAO report warned.

SpaceX and Boeing have been vying to be the first to return Americans to space from U.S. soil since 2014, three years after NASA's shuttle program ended.

The GAO's report acknowledges that SpaceX and Boeing have made "progress developing their crew transportation systems", but that "both contractors have further delayed the certification milestone to early 2019". Pictured here is the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft, a human-rated version of which is being developed to bring astronauts to space.

The spacecraft should be certified by 2017, according to the agreement. The latter is already delivering cargo to the orbiting space laboratory, which now has three Americans, one German, and two Russians astronauts. There is no passenger in their planned test flight.

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