SpaceX's Dragon is a hot candidate to become the next American spaceship to carry astronauts

Nasa aims at 2017 astronaut transportation target

Nasa hopes to have its own crew space-transportation capabilities by 2017, saying the first phase of the commercial space transportation programme has been a success.

Nasa administrator Charles Bolden said on Wednesday the first phase of the agency’s public-private partnership with American companies has fulfilled the expectations.

With the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) programme now concluded, the agency has announced the next phase – focused on developing technology for transportation of astronauts – will commence next week.

"America’s best days in space exploration are ahead of us thanks to the grit and determination of those in government, and the private sector, who dare to dream big dreams and have the skills to turn them into reality," Bolden said. 

"We’ve ended the outsourcing of space station resupply work and brought those jobs back home to America. The commercial space industry will be an engine of 21st century American economic growth and will help us carry out even more ambitious deep space exploration missions."

A little over two years after the end of the Space Shuttle Program, Nasa now has two vehicles capable of transporting cargo to the International Space Station through contracts with private companies SpaceX and Orbital Sciences. However, it still depends on Russia’s Soyuz to bring astronauts to space.

The agency hopes to be able to launch crew from the US soil in four years. On 19 November, the agency will issue a final Request for Proposals for the new Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCTCap) contract, designed to ensure commercial companies meet Nasa’s safety requirements for transporting Nasa crews to the space station. This procurement phase is expected to include crewed demonstration missions to the space station before 2017.

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