Hawthorne-based SpaceX and Chicago-based Boeing were awarded contracts totaling $6.8 billion by NASA on Tuesday for the development of spacecraft to carry astronauts to the International Space Station, replacing the agency’s retired space shuttle program.
Boeing earned the bulk of the contracts, with NASA awarding the company $4.2 billion for the development of its CST-100 spacecraft. SpaceX was awarded a $2.6 billion contract that will be used for its Dragon spacecraft, unmanned versions of which have already made trips delivering cargo to the space station.
“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,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “We are also 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.”
The U.S. has been relying on Russian spacecraft to send astronauts to the space station since the shuttles program ended in 2011.
SpaceX is short for Space Exploration Technologies Corp. The company is led by Elon Musk.
Musk wrote on his Twitter page he was “deeply honored and appreciative of the trust that NASA has placed in SpaceX for the future of human spaceflight.” He also congratulated Boeing.
Bolden said NASA received bids from a variety of aerospace companies, all of which were “united in their desire to return human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil.”
“The partnership with Boeing and SpaceX promises to give more people in America and around the world the opportunity to experience the wonder and exhilaration of spaceflight, to realize the dream of leaving Earth for even a short time to float above our planet Earth in microgravity and to see the stars and the majestic tapestry of the Milky Way unobstructed by the artificial lights and dust of our atmosphere,” Bolden said. “Space travelers also will be able to imagine and realize new benefits that can be brought back to Earth.”
Contracting with private companies to handle astronaut flights to the International Space Station is expected to allow NASA officials to focus their energies on planned future missions — most notably efforts to land on an asteroid and eventually on Mars.
NASA has been working on a heavy-lift rocket known as the Space Launch System and its next-generation spacecraft, Orion, which is the prototype for craft likely to be used in the Mars and asteroid missions.
“We’ll conduct missions that will each set their own impressive roster of firsts,” Bolden said. “First crew to visit and take samples of an asteroid, first crew to fly beyond the orbit of the moon, perhaps the first crew to grow its own food in space — all of which will set us up for humanity’s next giant leap: the first crew to touch down and take steps on the surface of Mars.”
— Staff & Wire Reports
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