There’s a space race happening right now. It’s not between the United States and Russia, or any nations at all, for that matter, but it’s definitely happening. It’s a race between SpaceX and Boeing to be the first company to deliver a crew-capable spacecraft to NASA, and it’s been filled with twists, turns, and delays since the very start.
Now, a new preliminary planning schedule for NASA’s “Commercial Crew” program hints that SpaceX might ultimately be the victor, but it’s far from a sure thing.
NASA hired Boeing to build the Starliner, and threw money at SpaceX to build the Crew Dragon. Both spacecraft will eventually take NASA astronauts into space from U.S. soil, which is a big deal for the space agency, but neither company has followed through on its promises yet.
Both programs have been slammed with delays and setbacks, and neither the Starliner nor Crew Dragon has carried a human off Earth at this point. SpaceX sent an empty Crew Dragon to the International Space Station, which is a meaningful milestone, but an explosion (sorry, “anomaly”) threw its progress into question. It seemed to open the door for Boeing to take the lead and be the first to fulfill its pledge to NASA. However, if the dates issued in a new planning schedule hold true, SpaceX will be the first to carry NASA crew into space.
As NASASpaceflight.com explains, the dates are far from being set in stone, and they’re not even considered official target dates at this point. The dates in the report are based entirely on the available windows within which the space station could receive the spacecraft and when crew would be available to ride aboard them.
Still, while the dates aren’t even close to being set in stone, they show that NASA has some serious faith in SpaceX to correct whatever issue caused the explosion of its Crew Dragon during testing and get its program back on track swiftly. Perhaps even more than that, it shows that NASA doesn’t think Boeing’s Starliner will be ready to carry humans any time soon.