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To keep space station staffed, NASA plans to buy more rides from SpaceX for its astronauts

A view of SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule from the launch tower at Kennedy Space Center. Photo: SpaceX
A view of SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule from the launch tower at Kennedy Space Center. Photo: SpaceX

NASA plans to buy more rides to the International Space Station for its astronauts from SpaceX, part of NASA long-term goal of staffing the station until 2030.

NASA said it needs more rides on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule to make sure it can staff the ISS as Boeing continues to certify its Starliner capsule for astronaut missions. Boeing's capsule successfully docked with the station and returned safely to Earth last month on an uncrewed test flight, but has yet to fly NASA astronauts.

“The recent success of Boeing’s uncrewed flight test is helping to solidify NASA’s long-term goals,” said Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “It’s critical we complete Starliner’s development without undue schedule pressure while working to position both Boeing and SpaceX for sustainable operations in the years ahead.”

The agency wants two companies to ferry astronauts. But delays to Starliner have prompted NASA to seek more rides from SpaceX.

“Our goal has always been to have multiple providers for crewed transportation to the space station," said Phil McAllister, director of commercial space at NASA. "SpaceX has been reliably flying two NASA crewed missions per year, and now we must backfill those flights to help safely meet the agency’s long-term needs.”

Earlier this year, NASA purchased three additional missions from SpaceX for a total of 10 human missions but says it will now require five more from Elon Musk’s aerospace company.

So far, NASA has spent some $3.5 billion on development of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and rides for its astronauts to the station -- not including these five planned additional missions.

SpaceX is currently the only company sending astronauts to the station and plans to launch another crew to the station early next year.

Brendan Byrne is Central Florida Public Media's Assistant News Director, managing the day-to-day operations of the newsroom, editing daily news stories, and managing the organization's internship program. Byrne also hosts Central Florida Public Media's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration, and the weekly news roundup podcast "The Wrap."