Getting our personnel, equipment, and living supplies off this rock and into space is just the first step. It requires a huge investment in energy, technology, and fuel – not to mention the cost of supplies, and people for the journey. As of mid-summer 2015, the US, Russia, and China are the only organizations to have successfully launched humans into space. Each has a selection of launchers and man-rated spacecraft.
I suspect that by the middle of 2016, three others will have completed their test flights and begin offering manned launches. They are SpaceX with their Falcon family of launchers and the Dragon v2, Boeing with their Atlas and Delta launchers and the CST-100, and upstart India with its GSLV and the Orbital Vehicle, with Japan and Iran with their own programs in development.
Clearly, there is a sufficient variety of launch capability in existence. Let’s look at each one.
Clearly the longest running launch vehicle in history, the Soyuz has been in service since 1966. Soyuz is widely considered the world’s safest, most cost-effective human launch and spaceflight vehicle, established by its unparalleled length of operational history. Currently, the Soyuz rocket and its spacecraft are the only manned transport available to reach the ISS.
The Long March 2F rocket first launched an unmanned module in 1999, and launched its first crewed module in 2003. Since then, the Long March has launched 5 missions to orbit.
Currently, the US does not have a man-rated launch vehicle in its stable. However, ULA has available the Atlas and Delta series launchers which are being considered for use with the CST-100 capsule.
NASA is developing the Space Launch System for use with the Orion capsule. One of the new engines was recently test fired for this launch vehicle.
SpaceX has now been flying the Falcon 9 launcher since 2010. After 19 launches, only one launch failure, and one secondary payload failure, the Falcon has proven its capabilities as a launch vehicle.
Boeing as a partner in ULA has available the Atlas and Delta series launchers, that have a long history of successful launches.
ISRO recently launched the GSLV mkIII with an unmanned module preparing the way for manned launches in the near future.