Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios 

Astronauts haven't launched from U.S. soil since the end of the space shuttle era in 2011. But as Russian rocketry ages and U.S. commercial and military interests grow, the ability to carry astronauts from the U.S. will be key.

The big picture: Successful commercial crew launches would be a prelude to missions aimed at deep space, including a possible return to the moon and an eventual Mars mission. Both of those are probably more than a decade away.

On the horizon:

  • Boeing and SpaceX — both NASA partners — are planning uncrewed tests of their spacecrafts in the first half 2019. SpaceX's first test is scheduled for Jan. 17.
  • These uncrewed tests will be accompanied by "abort tests" — a key demonstration of the ability of the crew to escape from the spacecraft in the event of an emergency.
  • A demo test flight of SpaceX's Dragon space capsule, carrying two NASA astronauts, is scheduled for June, and the first crewed flight for Boeing is on the docket for August.

Go deeper: Special report: The new global race to space

Go deeper

3 mins ago - Health

U.S. reaches 200,000 coronavirus deaths

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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Chart: Axios Visuals

The coronavirus has now killed 200,000 Americans, according to Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: Whatever context you try to put this in, it is a catastrophe of historic proportions — and is yet another reminder of America's horrific failure to contain the virus.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Mitt Romney says he'll support moving forward with Supreme Court pick

Photo: Greg Nash/AFP/Pool via Getty Images

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) announced Tuesday that he would support moving forward with a Senate vote on President Trump's selection to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Why it matters: Barring any big surprises, Democrats have virtually no shot at stopping the confirmation process for the president’s nominee before November’s election.

Dave Lawler, author of World
1 hour ago - World

In UN address, Trump says China "unleashed this plague onto the world"

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump used a virtual address to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday to defend his response to the coronavirus and call on other countries to “hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world: China.”

Setting the scene: Trump ticked through four years of major decisions and accomplishments in what could be his last address to the UN. But first, he launched into a fierce attack on China as Beijing’s representative looked on in the assembly hall.

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