SpaceX Aims High
As we heard yesterday, the last flight of the Space Shuttle is scheduled for September 16, 2010. this could leave a 5-year gap before Orion is ready. Since January 10 SpaceX's Falcon 9 has been poised on a pad at Cape Canaveral. Video above shows an uncrewed Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft delivering cargo to ISS. The lack of an escape tower shows that this is an unmanned flight. SpaceX is prepared to fill the "gap" with an all-American spacecraft.
SpaceX's press release includes another cool video of humans riding a Dragon into orbit. Falcon 9 and Dragon will already be rated to carry living things like bugs or mice. Dragon will also be rated safe to carry humans in Space, as they will have to enter when Dragon is docked to ISS. The biggest item that needs to be developed is an escape tower.
SpaceX recently won a 1.6 billion+ contract to deliver cargo. If all goes well, by 2010 an unmanned Dragon will begin demonstration flights to ISS. For an additional 1.5 billion a human-rated Dragon could deliver astronauts to Space. this is a bargain that the United States should consider.