Thus, use of the Dragon now would have two benefits. First, we could stop depending on the Russians for access to the ISS immediately, and stop shipping money to a nation that is not merely indifferent to our security, but clearly now outright hostile to it. Second, it would more than double the value of a space facility in which we’ve invested tens of billions and continue to spend billions per year.
Why don’t we?
Ostensibly it is because we don’t want to lose another astronaut crew, though even without its launch abort system currently in development, the Falcon-9/Dragon combination is probably as, or more, reliable at this point than anything we flew in the 1960s. The launcher has had several successful flights with no significant failures, and the capsule has been to orbit and back safely several times. The same would apply for the Atlas V, with its long string of successful flights, and the Boeing Crew Space Transportation (CST) capsule as its payload, another proposed Commercial Crew solution, though the CST is not as far along in its development, and hasn’t had a test flight yet. Adding an abort system will improve the safety of the system, but that doesn’t mean that it is “unsafe” now. “Safe” and “unsafe” are not binary conditions – they are a continuum.
But even if the systems are as “unsafe” as some critics imply, what does it say about the nature of our space goals, not to mention nuclear non-proliferation, that we are unwilling to risk the lives of brave Americans who signed up to be astronauts to accomplish those goals? I would postulate that most, if not all of them would take umbrage at the notion that they are not willing to hazard themselves for their country, as did their forebears in Apollo. The notion that “safety is the highest priority,” as several in Congress have said in the past few years, is stark testimony to how unimportant those same congresspeople think it is to open the harshest final frontier, or to save thousands of earthly lives through medical and other breakthroughs. It trivializes the astronauts’ accomplishments, and makes it difficult to justify the billions that we spend on them. It is long past time for such thinking to end and, for the first time since the moon race, to take American spaceflight seriously again. On SpaceX’s next ISS flight in a couple weeks, SpaceX and NASA should move heaven and earth to have an astronaut aboard.