HAWTHORNE, Calif. — SpaceX unveiled the spaceship it expects to use to send NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, known as the Dragon V2, at its headquarters on Thursday amid surroundings as glitzy as an auto show.
Maybe that shouldn't be surprising, considering that the company's billionaire founder, CEO and chief designer, Elon Musk, also runs the Tesla electric-car company. His SpaceX venture has even loftier ambitions than Tesla — nothing less than sending colonists to Mars.
The curtain drop on Dragon V2 — and yes, a curtain literally dropped — marks a significant step toward that goal. Hundreds of employees, VIPs and other guests cheered when the spacecraft made its debut, sitting on a stage set up on SpaceX's factory floor.
SpaceX's CEO and chief designer, Elon Musk, introduces the Dragon V2 spacecraft on Thursday during a glitzy "reveal" at the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images
The Dragon V2 could be one of the first U.S-built spaceships to carry NASA fliers since the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011. SpaceX and two other companies, the Boeing Co. and Sierra Nevada Corp., have been receiving more than $1 billion from NASA to develop replacements for the shuttle.
Sometime in the next few months, the space agency is expected to decide which projects will move on to actual spaceflight in about 2017. In the meantime, NASA has to pay the Russians more than $70 million per seat for rides on Soyuz spacecraft. All three U.S. companies say they can beat that price.
After the big reveal, Musk told reporters that the cost of flying seven astronauts to the station on the Dragon could start out at under $20 million per seat, which translates to $140 million for the launch. The cost could fall even further if the flight rate increases, he said.
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