After a four-year competition, NASA has tapped the commerical spaceflight companies SpaceX and Boeing to launch astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil by 2017, agency officials announced today (Sept. 16). If all goes according to plan, the two companies will reduce or end NASA's dependence on Russia for its orbital taxi service. Russia's Soyuz has been NASA's only crew access to space since the space shuttle fleet retired in 2011.
"Today's announcement sets the stage for what promises to be the most ambitious and exciting chapter in the history of NASA and human spaceflight, " NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told reporters today. [SpaceX's Manned Dragon Spaceship in Pictures]
NASA has picked SpaceX's Dragon Version 2 manned spacecraft (left) and Boeing's CST-100 space capsule to fly American astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit from U.S. soil for the first time since the shuttle fleet's retirement in 2011. NASA announced the decision on Sept. 16, 2014 in a press conference at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Filling the shuttle's shoes
SpaceX and Boeing are splitting NASA's $6.8 billion Commercial Crew Transportation Capability award, or CCtCap, the latest in a series of contracts set up in 2010 to encourage the development of private American manned spaceships. SpaceX will get .6 billion and Boeing will receive .2 billion, officials said. [Boeing's CST-100 Space Capsule in Photos]
NASA is looking to the private sector to fill the crew-carrying shoes of the space shuttle fleet, which was retired in 2011 after 30 years of orbital service. For the past three years, the agency has relied on Russian Soyuz capsules to fly its astronauts to and from space — recently, at a cost of more than $70 million per seat.
NASA officials have said they want at least one American commercial vehicle to be up and running by late 2017. A domestic capability to and from low-Earth orbit could not only cut costs but also free the agency to work on getting people to more distant and difficult destinations such as Mars, Bolden said.
Four companies have been major players in NASA's ongoing commercial crew competition: SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada. SpaceX and Boeing are building capsules called Dragon and the CST-100, respectively. Blue Origin has been developing a conical craft called the Space Vehicle, while Sierra Nevada's entry was a space plane called Dream Chaser.
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