Top row, left to right: NASA Astronauts Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins; bottom row, left to right: NASA Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley (SpaceX handout)
Top row, left to right: NASA Astronauts Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins; bottom row, left to right: NASA Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley (SpaceX handout) SpaceX

A report released by NASA's Office of Inspector General revealed that the agency might be forced to reduce the number of American astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to just one. The report cited the launch delays of NASA's commercial partners Boeing and SpaceX as the primary reason behind this issue.

As part of NASA's contract with Boeing and SpaceX, the two private companies are expected to develop spacecraft that can transport the agency's crew and cargo to the ISS. However, major problems encountered by the companies have forced them to delay their scheduled launches with NASA.

In June 2018, Boeing's Starliner spacecraft got severely damaged after a fire ignited during an abort engine test. While performing a similar test in April of this year, the Crew Dragon capsule developed by SpaceX exploded.

In a new report, NASA's Office of Inspector General outlined the various issues NASA could face due to the problems experienced by Boeing and SpaceX. According to the report, the delayed launches caused by these issues could force NASA to reduce the number of its astronauts aboard the ISS next year.

International Space Station
International Space Station Reuters

Since NASA will not be able to rely on Boeing and SpaceX on crew launches by spring next year, only one American astronaut could remain on the station. This means NASA's time to conduct experiments and studies on the ISS will also be reduced.

"NASA likely will experience a reduction in the number of [U.S. Orbital Segment] crew aboard the ISS from three to one beginning in spring 2020 given the schedule delays in the development of Boeing and SpaceX space flight systems coupled with a reduction in the frequency of Soyuz flights," the report stated.

Aside from the reduction in its crew members, the report also warned that the agency could face safety risks due to the delays in Boeing and SpaceX's capsule launches. According to the report, these two companies will most likely not be able to secure the proper safety certifications next summer because of the delays.

This issue would force NASA to postpone its scheduled trips to the ISS in order to avoid compromising the safety of its astronauts."NASA must continue to guard against allowing schedule pressure to drive decisions that could adversely impact astronaut safety," the report stated.