Sooner Than You Think

The lag in having a US launch system able to deliver cargo and crew to the International Space Station won’t be as long as is generally thought, NASA Director Charles Bolden told attendees at AFA’s Air & Space Conference at National Harbor, Md., Monday afternoon. Bolden said “most audiences” believe it will be three to five years before there is a way to ISS but “actually, we’re months away” from sending cargo to the ISS via the Space-X Dragon capsule. The vehicle won’t technically dock with the station but will “berth” alongside it, and the remote manipulator arm will unload the cargo. A man-rated system is, however, three to five years off, Bolden said. He recognizes that people are “uncomfortable” with reliance on the Russian Soyuz system until then—especially given a recent Soyuz failure—but Bolden is confident the system is acceptable for the near term. Soyuz stepped in to provide access in 2003 after the Columbia accident, and has served as a space taxi since then, he said. “I’m confident US industry will rise to the occasion” in providing a domestic outsourced access to low Earth orbit on schedule, Bolden said. However, “we couldn’t afford to fly shuttle” anymore.