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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

After an absence lasting 9 years, the U.S. is seeking to resume launching humans to space from American soil.

But this time it won’t be NASA doing the launches — it will be Boeing and SpaceX, private contractors that NASA selected to transport crew to the International Space Station.

  • Both companies have a track record of satellite launches but are untested when it comes to human spaceflight.
  • They're also relying on entirely new and as-yet untested spacecraft.

Safety is a major sticking point, particularly the standards by which NASA, Boeing and SpaceX calculate the odds of killing or permanently disabling an astronaut.

  • One of these standards is known as the "loss of crew" standard, for which the space agency has set a 1-in-270 probability for Commercial Crew providers to meet in order to be certified to fly NASA astronauts to the ISS.

For example, NASA has expressed concern about the safety of SpaceX’s plan to fuel the rocket with potentially explosive propellant after the astronauts board the Crew Dragon capsule.

  • In July, the Government Accountability Office said NASA had not applied consistent safety standards to SpaceX and Boeing spacecraft designs and launch plans.
  • The GAO said meeting the standards has also been difficult from the companies’ perspectives, given the novelty of their designs.
  • Boeing told Axios it expects to "exceed" NASA's safety requirements for loss of crew and mission capability.

Where it stands: NASA, SpaceX and Boeing have announced their initial commercial crew test flight and ISS mission astronauts, who are now training for these flights. Both companies are planning for uncrewed test flights early next year, with the first crewed tests to come later in 2019 and possibly continue into 2020.

The schedule has been subject to multiple delays, the most recent of which occurred on October 4.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that the first uncrewed flight tests will take place in early 2019.

Go deeper

Biden's Day 1 challenges: The immigration reset

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President-elect Biden has an aggressive Day One immigration agenda that relies heavily on executive actions to undo President Trump's crackdown.

Why it matters: It's not that easy. Trump issued more than 400 executive actions on immigration. Advocates are fired up. The Supreme Court could threaten the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and experts warn there could be another surge at the border.

10 hours ago - Sports

Broncos and 49ers the latest NFL teams impacted by coronavirus crisis

From left, Denver Broncos quarterbacks Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Jeff Driskel during an August training session at UCHealth Training Center in Englewood, Colorado. Photo: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the NFL season into chaos, with all Denver Broncos quarterbacks sidelined, the San Francisco 49ers left without a home or practice ground and much of the Baltimore Ravens team unavailable, per AP.

Driving the news: The Broncos confirmed in a statement Saturday night that quarterbacks Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles were identified as "high-risk COVID-19 close contacts" and will follow the NFL's mandatory five-day quarantine, making them ineligible for Sunday's game against New Orleans.

Updated 14 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: McConnell temporarily halts in-person lunches for GOP caucusColorado Governor and partner test positive.
  3. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in DecemberAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  4. Education: U.S. public school enrollment drops as pandemic persists.
  5. Cities: Surge in cases forces San Francisco to impose curfew — Los Angeles County issues stay-at-home order, limits gatherings.
  6. Sports: NFL bans in-person team activities Monday as crisis engulfs league, Tuesday due to COVID-19 surge — NBA announces new coronavirus protocols.
  7. World: London police arrest more than 150 during anti-lockdown protests — Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.