We’re a few weeks away from the first uncrewed Demo-1 flight test to the Space Station, but NASA and SpaceX have pushed the mission back slightly. According to a post from the Commercial Crew Program, switching the date back ten days from January 7th to January 17th will allow time for the Dragon capsule to return from its 16th ISS supply run (if you’re quick, you can catch the spacecraft docking live this morning, two days after it launched). Its competition, Boeing’s Starliner, is scheduled for a test in March.
Getting this test done to gather data and test the in-flight abort function ahead of a flight with the Crew Dragon capsule that carries astronauts onboard is critical, as Commercial Crew Program manager Kathy Lueders said “The upcoming steps before the test missions are critical, and their importance can’t be understated. We are not driven by dates, but by data. Ultimately, we’ll fly SpaceX Demo-1 at the right time, so we get the right data back to support the in-flight abort test and the next test flight when our astronauts are aboard.”
Boeing and SpaceX embroiled in different kind of space race
“The next astronaut that launched from American soil that docked at the space station would get to bring the flag home,” he told CBS’s Mark Strassman. Boeing is producing a capsule that will carry Ferguson, and NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Eric Boe, meaning that Ferguson could recover the same flag he left.
That is, unless SpaceX gets there first. The company is developing their own ship called Crew Dragon, which is expected to carry NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the Space Station. Hurley piloted the flight that took the flag up in the first place.
“I have no problem with a little healthy competition,” Hurley told CBS. “It makes you better and it makes him better and it makes both companies better. And in the end, who benefits? The country. We get redundant access to space.”
A veritable space race is underway between Boeing and SpaceX, and it all involves a little American flag.
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For seven years, we’ve been relying on Russia for rides to the International Space Station. Boeing wants to become the first company to carry American astronauts there as soon as next summer, but so does SpaceX. Both companies will operate competing space taxis for NASA.
Whoever gets there first will get the chance to ceremonially carry back a small American flag that was left in 2011 when Space Shuttle Atlantis took its last flight. Shuttle commander Chris Ferguson placed the flag as symbol, but now sees it as a goal.
A recent study from the Puget Sound Regional Council concluded that “Washington state and the central Puget Sound region are positioned to lead commercial space exploration and development.” They currently constitute about $1.8 billion in economic activity, with about 6,221 jobs supported across the entire economy.
Whether Boeing or SpaceX gets there first, it’s safe to say the astronauts will be doing a little more than just picking up a tiny flag.