NASA today said it will by 2017 use space technology from Boeing and Space X to fly US crews the International Space Station – a deal that will effectively end America’s sole reliance on Russia to deliver American astronauts to space.
The space agency said it awarded contracts totaling $6.8 billion to Boeing ($4.2 billion) and Space X ($2.6 billion) to develop, build and certify the safety of the spacecraft they will cultivate under the contracts.
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NASA said the contracts include at least one crewed flight test per company with at least one NASA astronaut aboard to verify the fully integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the space station, as well as validate all its systems perform as expected. Once each company’s test program has been completed successfully and its system achieves NASA certification, each contractor will conduct at least two, and as many as six, crewed missions to the space station. These spacecraft also will serve as a lifeboat for astronauts aboard the station, NASA stated.
Both companies are well along the development process as Boeing has its CST-100 space vehicle and SpaceX has its Dragon ship which has already made multiple cargo trips to the ISS.
“…Today we are one step closer to launching our astronauts from U.S. soil on American spacecraft,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. And having private companies handle transporting astronauts in low-Earth orbit, will allow NASA to focus on an even more ambitious mission: sending humans to Mars.
“Our specialist teams have watched the development of these new spacecraft during earlier development phases, and are confident they will meet the demands of these important missions. We also are confident they will be safe for NASA astronauts – to achieve NASA certification in 2017, they must meet the same rigorous safety standards we had for the Space Shuttle Program,” Bolden stated in a press conference.
“It was not an easy choice, but it is the best choice for NASA and the nation. We received numerous proposals from companies throughout the aerospace industry. Highly qualified, American companies – united in their desire to return human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil – competed to serve this nation and end our reliance on Russia. I applaud them all for their innovations, their hard work and their patriotism.”
Sierra Nevada with its Dream Chaser and Blue Origin, which is developing its own spacecraft were a couple of the other companies that were in the competition for the NASA contract.
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The Washington Post had an interesting observation in the contracts: “The two companies represent vastly different cultures in the space industry. Boeing is a so-called “old space” stalwart with decades of experience. SpaceX is the upstart California-based company founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk that has sought to disrupt the industry.”
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