Once the shuttle stops flying, NASA is counting on the commercial sector to come on line with viable, safe rockets to at first provide cargo missions to the international space station, but eventually crew transportation.
While this may sound like an easy task, it isn't. It's never been done before and those with 60 years of experience in space flight say there will be problems if the role of the contractor and the role of the government is not well defined.
"Manufacturing was always done by a contractor, under the management of the government, but the government was a smart buyer," said former Director of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Dr. Bill Lucas.
NASA hopes that a commercial provider will be flying and cleared for docking with the ISS sometime within the year, maybe by the end of the year.
That's what NASA is counting on in sending up a year's worth of food and supplies for U.S. astronauts on this final shuttle flight.