Barely two weeks ago, Elon Musk proudly revealed the success, changes, and plans for SpaceX’s deep-space Starship program. Almost ironically, NASA was not too happy with the focus on yet another project that the popular space company is engaging it, not when SpaceX is also supposed to be working on manned flights for NASA. The very public spat between the two institutions naturally made rounds on the Internet and, perhaps to show they’re still on good terms, NASA made a visit to SpaceX HQ and affirmed its positive outlook for the first manned mission to the ISS from US soil.
NASA has contracted SpaceX and Boeing to develop manned capsules that will launch American astronauts to the International Space Station or ISS from US facilities. Despite its lead in certain aspects of space and rocket science, NASA lacks a way to do that on its own. Instead, it pays Russia $80 million per ticket, something the US undoubtedly wants to be free of eventually.
Given that backdrop, it’s not surprising that NASA took issue with Musk flaunting the Starship’s success while its own collab with NASA has been delayed. Both as a public show of solidarity and perhaps to also check that things are proceeding as scheduled, NASA chief Jim Bridenstine made a tour of SpaceX’s facilities and made plenty of joint statements on that front.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule was the focus of space news until one test ended up in flames, literally, last April. NASA and SpaceX have investigated the matter but revealed no details. Despite those delays, Bridenstine was quite confident that the timeline for a first quarter 2020 mission is still on track.
That said, Bridenstine also emphasized that the timeline could slip in the name of astronaut safety, which juxtaposed with the NASA chief’s earlier praise for SpaceX’s “fail fast then fix” strategy. Obviously, that can’t apply when you’re catapulting humans into space. For all its success in launching and landing rockets, SpaceX has not yet launched a human into orbit.