NASA desperately needs a way to get its astronauts into space without paying for pricey seats aboard Russian rockets, but the agency’s two best hopes — SpaceX and Boeing — are stumbling a bit at the finish line. Boeing’s Starliner has been plagued by delays nearly from the start, and SpaceX is now dealing with its own list of problems.
In remarks to reporters at the Paris Airshow, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine admitted that the recent destruction of a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule during static testing is a major setback for NASA’s crewed flight schedule. The race to be the first to deliver a suitable solution for NASA’s needs now appears to be anyone’s game.
“There is no doubt the schedule will change,” Bridenstine reportedly said during his brief talk. “It won’t be what was originally planned.”
Back in late April, something went seriously wrong during a static test of Crew Dragon’s thrusters. The thrusters being tested were those that would spring into action if a launch had to be aborted after it had already lifted off. They’re designed to push the crew capsule away from the rest of the launch vehicle, keeping the crew safe.
Unfortunately, a glitch that so far has been described only as “an anomaly” occurred and the entire Crew Dragon capsule was destroyed in a fiery explosion. Details regarding exactly what went wrong have been scant, but both NASA and SpaceX are still conducting their investigations into the matter.
Up until that point, SpaceX was clearly beating competitor Boeing in the race to finish a crew-capable NASA spacecraft. However, an explosion can be a pretty big setback, and now it’s unclear when SpaceX will be able to resume its testing and get back on track. In the meantime, NASA will just have to wait.