Now that SpaceX's Dragon capsule has returned to earth safely after successfully delivering a cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), the space company has repeatedly proved that it has perfected the art of re-entry and re-use of rockets.
Though the Dragon capsule has only been used for cargo delivery so far, SpaceX has actually designed it to carry human crew to space and NASA has just announced recently that they are going to conduct a test flight of the capsule with astronauts by the end of this year.
The said test flight is expected to take place sometime in December this year. Before that, the capsule will get to have another unmanned run to space in August.
Other than Elon Musk's company, the other space firm gearing up for a manned mission to space is Boeing. The company is slated to demonstrate the performance of its CST-100 Starliner capsule in November, where the capsule will fly off to space with a crew and the destination would be the International Space Station. Before that, Boeing will also go for an unmanned test flight in August.
NASA is currently aiming at sending astronauts to the ISS from the United States. Until now, Russia's space program was handling this talk following the United State's Space Shuttle program's retirement in 2011.
The American space agency has given the contract of sending manned missions to ISS to both Boeing and SpaceX in 2014. This year will spell out who the winner is.
"From day one, the Obama Administration made clear that the greatest nation on Earth should not be dependent on other nations to get into space. Thanks to the leadership of President Obama, the hard work of our NASA and industry teams, and support from Congress, today we are one step closer to launching our astronauts from US soil on American spacecraft and ending the nation's sole reliance on Russia by 2017. Turning over low-Earth orbit transportation to private industry will also allow NASA to focus on an even more ambitious mission – sending humans to Mars," NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said then defending the move.
However, according to a survey by Ars Technica, America's dream of restarting crewed spaceflights from the US soil has been delayed several times due to the redirection of funds by the Congress over the years.
These upcoming test flights would determine who, out of these two companies, delivers astronauts to the ISS first. Other than earning the right to keep the US flag on the space station, whichever company claims the honor of delivering a manned mission first will also make history and get an advantage for future manned space missions beyond the ISS.
According to Ars Technica, the competition has become fierce between Boeing and SpaceX and they both are too close to success to predict who would win.
It is important to note that SpaceX might have faced an unfortunate failure recently, as the launch of its classified Zuma spacecraft, which the company was launching for NASA, seems to have failed miserably during the second stage of deployment. However, the cause of malfunction still remains unknown.