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

Trump dons face mask during Walter Reed visit

Trump wearing a face mask in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on July 11. Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump wore a face mask during his Saturday visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, according to AP.

Why it matters: This is the first occasion the president has appeared publicly with a facial covering as recommended by health officials since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Updated 27 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5:30 p.m. ET: 12,607,510 — Total deaths: 562,338 — Total recoveries — 6,948,863Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 5:30 p.m. ET: 3,228,884 — Total deaths: 134,600 — Total recoveries: 983,185 — Total tested: 38,919,421Map.
  3. Public health: Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter: "Please wear a mask to save lives" Fauci hasn't briefed Trump on the coronavirus pandemic in at least two months — We're losing the war on the coronavirus.
  4. Food: How the coronavirus pandemic boosted alternative meat.
  5. Sports: Charge of "money grab" by college football.
  6. World: India reimposes lockdowns as coronavirus cases soar.

Supreme Court expands religious freedoms in schools, employment

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Supreme Court ended its term with a series of rulings on religion's role in schools, the workplace and access to health care.

Why it matters: The decisions elevated protections for people and employers of faith, while curtailing those of religion teachers, the nonreligious taxpayer and women who rely on their workplaces' health care plans for contraception.