Orbital Human Space Launch
U.S. Human Space Launch
The last U.S. human space launch was conducted in 2011. NASA now relies on Russia’s Soyuz space launch system, paying hundreds of millions of dollars to transport U.S. astronauts to…
The United States is approaching its sixth year without a space launch vehicle capable of transporting humans to space and back. NASA has instead…
Nearly five years have passed since the United States stepped back from launching humans with its own space vehicles, the last of which flew in July 2011. The country conducts human operations in space on the ISS, contracting the launch of U.S. astronauts through the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos. In August 2015, NASA reserved six seats for 2018 from the Russians for $490 million. NASA’s leadership reported that the contract was necessary due to underfunding of the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), which reduced NASA’s ability to support private companies developing human space launch capabilities.
Since 2011, the year the Space Shuttle was retired, the United States has not been able to launch astronauts aboard U.S. vehicles. To send U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), NASA has relied on contracts with the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, buying seats every year on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Rising seat prices and political developments in Ukraine increased pressure on NASA to provide indigenously manufactured spacecraft quickly.
In 1962, the United States became the second nation after the Soviet Union to successfully orbit a crewed spacecraft. For thirty years, from 1981 to 2011, the crewed orbital vehicle of the United States was the Space Shuttle. However, following the Shuttle’s retirement and its subsequent final flight in July 2011, the United States has been without a crewed orbital launch capacity. This space transportation gap is expected to last until 2018.
The United States, after the Soviet Union, was the second nation to send a human into space, but it will not have its own human spaceflight capability for the next several years, following the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2012. The United States has several programs in development intended to restore its national human spaceflight capability.
The events of 2011 marked a transition in the U.S. human spaceflight program with the retirement of the Space Shuttle. In the near term, NASA will rely on Russia to transport its astronauts to the ISS. However, the United States is pursuing development of several human spaceflight systems that are expected to take over U.S. crew transportation duties to the ISS and allow U.S. astronauts to travel beyond Earth orbit to explore destinations throughout the Solar System.
Certain spaceflight systems, including both the launch vehicle and its spacecraft payload, can be used to carry humans into space. Such flights amount to a small portion of all space missions—in 2010 only ## of the year’s ## launches carried people.
The Space Shuttle, also known as the Space Transportation System (STS), consists of an active fleet of three orbiters: Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour. The Shuttles are the United States’ primary method of transferring crew, supplies, and new modules to the ISS.
NASA plans to retire the Space Shuttle in 2010, though the agency has considered extending the vehicle’s life to support continued operation of the ISS. ## shuttle missions took place in 2008, all devoted to ISS assembly.