SpaceX has never flown a person into space in its Crew Dragon, its first crew-capable spacecraft. But already the company is showing off its much bigger, much shinier cousin: the Starship, built in Boca Chica, a coastal village at the southeastern tip of Texas, as part of a plan to carry giant crews into deep space. And NASA’s administrator is bristling.
That’s because, even though the Crew Dragon — which consists of a capsule for carrying cargo and crew into space on top of a Falcon Heavy rocket — is still very much in the works, it’s well behind schedule. Awarded a NASA contract in 2014, SpaceX initially said it would deliver an operational vehicle that astronauts could fly in by 2017. But that still hasn’t happened. As of March, SpaceX has completed one uncrewed mission to the International Space Station using the Crew Dragon. It planned to launch a crewed mission later in 2019. But when a Crew Dragon capsule exploded during engine testing in April, SpaceX and NASA put off the planned first crewed mission.
On Sept. 30, Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, told CNN that the Crew Dragon would be ready to carry astronauts into space in three to four months. But NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told CNN he wasn’t convinced, and due to delays from SpaceX and Boeing (which is at work on a similarly delayed, competitor capsule called Starliner), he anticipated NASA buying more seats aboard Russian capsules.