Struggle for 21st Century U.S. Human Spaceflight Capabilities

Explore the announcements, awards, cancellations, transformations, launches, disasters and successes as America strives to develop new capabilities for human spaceflight in the 21st century.

Author: John Kavanagh; Twitter: @kavanagh;xNLx;;xNLx;Timeline emphasizes amount NASA awards in cost-plus contracts for government-operated systems versus competitive fixed-price commercial agreements with payment milestones for services, or achievement by entirely private efforts. Specific attention drawn to pattern of over-budget program cancellations and long-term public-private partnerships.;xNLx;;xNLx;Evident paradoxes of American space policy:;xNLx;- If flying astronauts again is important, why does NASA spend more on Russia for this than U.S. Commercial Crew? Or why not decouple Orion from Space Launch System to fly sooner on existing American rocket?;xNLx;- If beyond Earth exploration is next objective of human spaceflight, why does NASA spend most to build government-operated rockets redundant to existing launch industry? Why not develop new technologies instead?;xNLx;- If reducing spaceflight expense is a priority, why does each successive NASA-operated space transport cost more than the last - while flying less frequently? Why not rely on existing American commercial launch?;xNLx;;xNLx;User Instructions: ;xNLx; ;xNLx; ;xNLx;For each event, click on “More” “Find out More” to read primary sources of information including:;xNLx;· Presidential speeches;xNLx;· Investigation Board Reports;xNLx;· NASA Press Release and;xNLx;· Presidential Commission Reports

2001-02-01 00:00:00

NASA Announces Space Launch Initiative

NASA seeks new options for space transportation. Initiative evolves in to Orbital Space Plane, later X-37, and Next Generation Launch Technology Programs.

2002-03-03 15:40:01

President Bush Truncates Space Station

President orders NASA to finish only a "Core Complete" International Space Station without Propulsion nor Habitation Modules and cuts Research by $1B

2002-04-29 04:12:26

NASA Cancels X-38 Crew Return Vehicle

Facing an estimated $3 billion cost remaining, NASA cancels buying a X-38/CRV fleet. CRVs were to be docked with ISS for return or escape of crew.

2002-11-25 00:00:00

NASA Awards Boeing $300M for X-37 Flight Test

NASA continues development of X-37 reusable spaceplane to conduct atmospheric and orbital flight tests. Under this $301 million Space Launch Initiative contract Boeing Phantom Works will complete the final assembly of the X-37 Approach and Landing Test Vehicle and conduct an atmospheric flight.

2003-01-16 15:39:00

Shuttle Columbia Disaster

Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrates over Texas and Louisiana as it reenters Earth's atmosphere, killing all seven crew members.

2003-08-26 04:31:26

Columbia Accident Investigation Board Reports

Determined Columbia accident caused by foam insulation breaking off and striking. Recommends safety improvements and Shuttle recertification by 2010.

2004-01-14 00:00:00

President Bush Announces New Vision for Space Exploration

Directs NASA to develop Crew Vehicle by 2008, finish ISS construction and retire Shuttle by 2010, deorbit Station by 2017 to explore Moon, Mars and Beyond

2004-06-04 04:11:41

Commission on U.S. Space Exploration Policy

Concludes NASA’s relationship to private sector, its organization, culture, and processes – largely from Apollo era – must be transformed to implement space exploration vision

2004-06-21 09:02:27

SpaceShipOne First Private Suborbital Spaceflights

Financed by Paul Allen for an estimated $25M, Scaled Composites performed three suborbital spaceflights from Mojave to win the Ansari X-Prize.

2004-09-13 04:38:27

NASA Transfers X-37 to DARPA

NASA transfers X-37 to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) thereafter a classified program.

2005-06-21 00:00:00

X-37A Carry & Drop Tests

Scaled Composites White Knight carries X-37A from Mojave Spaceport in Mojave on captive carry and drop glide tests.

2005-07-26 12:24:45

Space Shuttle Return to Flight with Discovery

First Shuttle mission after Columbia disaster, the flight tests safety improvements during launch and on orbit before landing at Edwards AFB.

2006-08-18 00:00:00

NASA Selects SpaceX for Commercial Orbital Transportation Services

NASA competitively awards SpaceX a cumulative $396M to demo delivery of cargo to orbit through milestones ending in rendezvous with ISS.

2006-08-31 11:56:03

NASA Selects Lockheed Martin for Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle

NASA awards Lockheed Martin $3.9B for design, development, testing and evaluation of Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle with astronauts to fly by 2014.

2007-07-16 06:47:43

NASA Selects P&WR for J-2X Ares Upper Stage

NASA awards Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne $1.2B for design, development, testing, evaluation of J-2X engine to power the upper stages of Ares I & V . This rocket motor will later we mothballed before use in a launch vehicle.

2007-08-10 15:15:07

NASA Selects ATK for Ares 1 First Stage

NASA awards ATK $1.8B sole-source cost-plus contract for design, development, testing and evaluation of the solid rocket motor 1st stage of Ares 1. This rocket will later be cancelled before it flies by President Obama, although solid rocket boosters are retained in the design of the Space Launch System.

2008-08-04 23:21:59

NASA Selects Orbital for Commercial Orbital Transportation Services

NASA competitively awarded Orbital a total $288M by NASA to demonstrate delivery of cargo to orbit throughmilestones ending in rendezvous with ISS.

2008-12-23 05:48:51

NASA Awards Commercial Resupply Services

To resupply Space Station from 2012 to 2016, NASA awards SpaceX $1.6B for 12 flights and awards Orbital $1.9B for 8 flights.

2009-02-17 14:15:44

Recovery Act Funds for Orion

NASA allocates $166M of its $1B in 2009 Recovery Act funds to Orion CEV.

2009-03-21 13:05:19

NASA Awards Ares 1 Mobile Launcher Contract

NASA awards Hensel Phelps $264M to construct Ares I mobile launcher. Once Constellation is cancelled, remains unused until 2017 Space Launch System flight.

2009-05-07 03:29:46

Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee

Augustine Committee concludes Constellation behind schedule and unable to deliver heavy lift vehicle until late 2020s, with current budget.

2009-10-28 11:45:46

Ares I-X Test Launch

Ares I-X flies, at a cost of $445M, a precursor similar in shape to Constellation's Ares I rocket to carry Orion to Earth Orbit.

2010-02-01 14:15:44

Recovery Act Funds for Commercial Crew

NASA awards $50M for Commercial Crew Development (CCDev1) Transportation Concepts to Blue Origin, Boeing, Paragon, Sierra Nevada, United Launch Alliance.

2010-02-01 19:58:41

Space Station Operations Extended to 2020

President Obama's 2011 NASA budget request funds Station operations beyond 2016 - which was Constellation's ISS end date - extending it until 2020.

2010-04-22 00:00:00

X-37B Orbital First Flight

USAF launched from Cape Canaveral on an Atlas V rocket the X-37B on its first mission into low Earth orbit for testing.

2010-10-11 03:18:22

President Obama Cancels Constellation

Based on Augustine Committee findings, President Obama cancels Constellation Program's Ares I & V when he signs the NASA Authorization Act of 2010.

2011-03-14 05:24:14

NASA Extends Astronaut Russian Dependency to 2016

NASA to pay Roscosmos $753M for crew transport on Soyuz to ISS from 2014 with return and rescue services extending to June 2016.

2011-04-18 08:50:02

Commercial Crew Round Two

NASA CCDev2 awards $270M to advance commercial crew vehicle development: Blue Origin ($22M), Sierra Nevada ($80M), SpaceX ($75M) and Boeing ($92M)

2011-05-24 12:48:34

NASA Announces Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle

NASA continues Orion as MPCV originally CEV in development since 2006. NASA estimates $16.5B cost through 2021 first crewed flight.

2011-07-08 00:00:00

Final Flight of Space Shuttle

Atlantis flies to ISS on the 135th and final mission of the Space Shuttle program. American dependency on Soyuz begins at cost of $1.7B through 2017.

2011-08-01 14:26:29

Blue Origin New Shepard Test Flight Failure

Blue Origins flight tests full-scale propulsion module. However the test ends when range safety terminates vehicle.

2011-09-14 20:26:15

NASA Announces Space Launch System

NASA estimates $18B cost over 6 years with first launch beyond Earth orbit in 2017, SLS resurrects some of the 2010-cancelled Ares V.

2012-05-25 19:53:45

SpaceX Dragon at International Space Station

Dragon is first private spacecraft to rendezvous with ISS, berth with ISS to deliver cargo and return intact samples from ISS by splashdown on Earth.

2012-09-01 04:27:09

Commercial Crew Integrated Capability Announced

NASA CCiCap awards Sierra Nevada ($212M), SpaceX ($440M) and Boeing ($460M) to spur the development of space transportation subsystems

2012-10-01 19:24:27

NASA Awards SLS Advanced Boosters Concepts

NASA awarded three contracts - to ATK, Dynetics and Northrop Grumman - totaling $137.3M for advanced booster concepts for the Space Launch System. NASA cancels Advanced Boosters in 2014.

2012-11-21 00:45:19

ESA Awards Airbus Orion Service Module

Evolved from ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle, the $600M Service Module will power and propel Orion on the 2017 SLS flight.

2013-04-30 20:26:15

NASA Extends Astronaut Russian Dependency to 2017

NASA to pay Roscosmos $424M for crew transport on Soyuz to ISS in 2016 with return and rescue services extending to June 2017.

2013-09-18 08:18:16

Orbital Cygnus at International Space Station

Cygnus is second private space system to rendezvous with ISS, berth with ISS to deliver cargo and dispose of ISS refuse upon atmospheric reentry.

2013-12-31 08:07:16

NASA Mothballs J-2X Upper Stage Engine

PWR's J-2X engine, once the pacing item for Constellation's Ares I and Space Launch System, will go on the shelf, no longer required for SLS, in favor of RL-10s.

2014-01-27 18:07:09

NASA Extends Space Station Operations to 2024

President Obama's 2015 NASA budget request funds Station operations through 2024.

2014-07-02 13:13:19

Boeing to Develop Two SLS Core Stages for NASA

For development of two SLS core stages including hydrogen and oxygen tanks, and avionics, NASA signs a 6.5 year $2.8 billion contract with Boeing. Counting the SLS Core and an Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage contract that with options worth up to $307 million, Boeing stands to receive roughly $3 billion through 2021 for core and upper stages for the first two SLS rockets.

2014-09-17 09:28:29

NASA Chooses Boeing & SpaceX to Transport Astronauts to ISS

Boeing proposed $4.2B and SpaceX $2.6B to complete NASA certification, perform 1 crewed flight test and ferry astronauts to ISS on at least 2 to 6 flights, while remaining attached as lifeboats.

2014-10-31 00:13:16

VSS Enterprise Destroyed

Virgin Galactic suffers catastrophic first test flight with new hybrid engine, killed pilot Michael Alsbury, seriously injured Peter Siebold.

2014-11-17 07:59:09

Airbus Awarded Orion Service Module

ESA selects Airbus Defence & Space to build first Orion Service Module to fly by 2018, derived from Automated Transfer Vehicle, for 390 million euros.

2014-12-05 12:05:00

Exploration Flight Test 1 with Orion on Delta 4

Flawless first uncrewed test flight of the Orion Crew Vehicle survives high-velocity reentry, at cost to NASA $375M over Lockheed Martin’s $6.4B Orion contract.

2015-01-09 15:00:15

SLS RS-25 Rocket Engine Tests

In 2015, NASA starts testing disposable RS-25, modified Space Shuttle Main Engines, powering Space Launch System core stage.

2015-06-29 00:00:00

SpaceX Falcon 9 Explodes

On its 7th mission to ISS, a SpaceX Falcon 9 disintegrated 139 seconds after launch from Cape Canaveral, delaying commerical cargo and crew.

2015-11-21 05:20:00

NASA Awards Aerojet Rocketdyne New Builds of RS-25 Engines for SLS

This $1.16 billion contract restarts RS-25E engine production before SLS flights deplete remaining Space Shuttle-era RS-25D engines

2015-11-23 05:10:42

Blue Origin flies New Shepard to edge of space and safely back to Texas

Blue Origin flies New Shepard rocket on the world's first ever reusable vertical take off to 100 km and landing of a reusable rocket.

2015-12-21 00:00:00

SpaceX Falcon has Landed

After it threw 11 satellites to orbit, the SpaceX Falcon 9 1st stage rocketed back to Cape Canaveral. Historic first landing of orbital VTVL.

Struggle for 21st Century U.S. Human Spaceflight Capabilities

Copy this timeline Login to copy this timeline 3d

Contact us

We'd love to hear from you. Please send questions or feedback to the below email addresses.

Before contacting us, you may wish to visit our FAQs page which has lots of useful info on Tiki-Toki.

We can be contacted by email at:

You can also follow us on twitter at

If you are having any problems with Tiki-Toki, please contact us as at:


Edit this timeline

Enter your name and the secret word given to you by the timeline's owner.

3-40 true Name must be at least three characters
3-40 true You need a secret word to edit this timeline

Checking details

Please check details and try again