SpaceX's uncrewed Crew Dragon mission at launch. Photo: SpaceX

Boeing and SpaceX — tasked with building spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station for NASA — are not likely to launch people to orbit before the end of the year.

Why it matters: The Commercial Crew program is tasked with ending NASA's reliance on Russia's Soyuz rocket but has faced technical delays and budget shortfalls for years, leaving the space agency dependent on Russia's spaceflight capabilities.

Details: SpaceX suffered a setback earlier this year when one of its Crew Dragon vehicles exploded during a ground test.

  • Elon Musk expects the company will be able to fly people to the station in 3–4 months, according to CNN.
  • NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine recently said that is a stretch.
  • Boeing's first flight of its Starliner to the space station is also months away.

Between the lines: NASA wants to give SpaceX and Boeing flexibility in their flight schedules in the name of safety.

  • "We need them to fly, but more importantly, we need them to fly safely," NASA's Kirk Shireman said during a press briefing Friday.

The intrigue: NASA currently spends more than $80 million per seat for astronauts to fly to the station aboard Russian Soyuz rockets, with the final purchased flight expected to launch in March 2020.

  • If NASA wants to buy more Soyuz seats, it will need to do so before December 2020, when the agency will be barred from buying new seats from Russia by Congress unless granted a waiver.

What to watch: Bridenstine recently questioned whether SpaceX is focused on the Commercial Crew program and is set to visit the company's headquarters in California on Thursday to check in on its progress.

Go deeper

Coronavirus squeezes the "sandwich generation"

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

As the coronavirus poses risks and concerns for the youngest and oldest Americans, the generations in the middle are buckling under the increasing strain of having to take care of both.

Why it matters: People that make up the so-called sandwich generations are typically in their 30s, 40s and 50s, and in their prime working years. The increasing family and financial pressures on these workers means complications for employers, too.

Why Scranton matters again in 2020

Biden and Clinton visit Biden's childhood home in Scranton in 2016. Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The hometown of Joe Biden and "The Office" is polishing its perennial status as a guidepost for the nation's political mood.

Driving the news: Biden returns to Scranton, Pa., today with a campaign stop just outside the city limits at a metalworking plant, where he'll deliver remarks on a plan to create jobs and "help America build back better."

Updated 15 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5 a.m. ET: 12,051,561 — Total deaths: 549,735 — Total recoveries — 6,598,230Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 5 a.m. ET: 3,055,144 — Total deaths: 132,309 — Total recoveries: 953,420 — Total tested: 37,532,612Map.
  3. 2020: Houston mayor cancels Texas Republican convention.
  4. Public health: Deaths are rising in hotspots — Déjà vu sets in as testing issues rise and PPE dwindles.
  5. Travel: United warns employees it may furlough 45% of U.S. workforce How the pandemic changed mobility habits, by state.
  6. Education: New York City schools will not fully reopen in fallHarvard and MIT sue Trump administration over rule barring foreign students from online classes.