Following the retirement of the space shuttle fleet, public confidence in America’s manned space program has declined. NASA is looking to combat this by getting people excited about the shuttle’s possible replacements with three new exciting videos showcasing the standouts of the Commercial Crew Program (CCP). The CCP is NASA’s effort to step away from costly government involvement in the design process of space vehicles by having commercial companies foot the bill for construction and research. This is a pretty huge departure from the way the space shuttle fleet was constructed, which underwent several drastic design changes between its inception during the Nixon Administration to its first launch in 1981. By completing a series of milestones the vehicles get additional funding from NASA in the form of grants that help speed the process along.
The Boeing CST-100
The CST-100 is being developed through a partnership between Boeing and inflatable space habitat manufacturer Bigelow Aerospace. While the craft bears a striking resemblance to the Orion (or MPCV) that NASA is developing in conjunction with Lockheed Martin for long duration spaceflight, the CST-100 is slightly smaller and is designed for ferry missons from the ground to either the International Space Station in Low Earth Orbit, or the proposed space habitats that Bigelow Aerospace is developing. It also has the distinction of having the least cool name of the bunch.
The Sierra Nevada Dreamchaser
The Dreamchaser is being developed by Sierra Nevada Corperation and is the only candidate in the current batch that has a lifting-body spaceplane design which allows it to make a runway landing like the space shuttle. The spacecraft is designed to ferry up to 7 people to Low Earth Orbit. Just the fact that it is the spitting image of John Crichton’s Farscape module makes me REALLY want this design to succeed.
The current leader of the pack, the Dragon module remains the only one of the CCP to have lifted off orbited the Earth and landed safely. Recently, the Dragon did one better by being the first privately owned vehicle to dock with the International Space Station and return cargo to Earth. The Dragon is designed to carry 7 astronauts to Low Earth Orbit. An interesting thing to note, just on the info displayed in the videos themselves, the one spacecraft of the bunch to have actually gone to space seems to have used the least of NASA’s money. Kinda makes you wonder why we’re wasting money on the other ones.