The end of the Space Shuttle program created prominent gap in NASA's capabilities—the agency could no longer ferry its own astronauts to space. Instead, NASA became totally reliant on Russian rockets, a requirement that made the space agency even more susceptible to political turmoil.
It wasn't supposed to be this way, and soon it won't be. As the New York Times reports, NASA officially announced yesterday that Boeing and SpaceX will take over the task of sending America's astronauts to space starting as early as 2017.
When President Bush announced the decision to shutter the Space Shuttle program, the plan didn't include stripping NASA of any way to send people to space. The plan had been for the agency to replace the aging Space Shuttle, and NASA's answer to that call was the Constellation program.
Constellation was over time and over budget, and in 2010 President Obama killed the program. Even then, though, there was a backup. The budget that defunded Constellation also set money aside to pay private spaceflight companies to take over the duty of ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station. But when that call was made in 2010, private spaceflight still wasn't ready for the big time.
With yesterday's announcement, that grand plan to get American astronauts back into space aboard commercial American rockets is now inching closer to fruition.