The recent delay of the next manned launch to the International Space Station due to a damaged Russian space capsule highlights NASA's critical need for commercially built vehicles, space policy experts say. The Russian Soyuz spacecraft was originally scheduled to launch to the orbiting outpost on March 29, but the capsule was damaged in a botched pressure test and is unusable for the upcoming flight. Instead, Russia is preparing the next spaceship on the line, which means the liftoff will occur no earlier than May 15, NASA's space station program manager Mike Suffredini announced Thursday (Feb. 2). Since the retirement of NASA's space shuttle program last summer, the space agency is now completely reliant on Russian spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the orbiting laboratory. In the meantime, several commercial companies are building a new fleet of private spaceships to fill the gap left by the mothballed orbiters. But these transportation services will not be available until at least 2017, NASA officials have said. Facing an uncertain budget climate, NASA has also changed its approach to funding the private development of these commercial spacecraft under the space agency's Commercial Crew Development program, which could push back the start of U.S. commercial flights to and from low-Earth orbit. Full article here.