Space taxis:

Boeing, SpaceX to fly astronauts to station

Boeing, SpaceX to fly astronauts to station
Image: NASA.

    Our days of hitchhiking with the Russians are numbered.

    The Boeing Co. and SpaceX will be awarded a total of $6.8 billion in contracts to transport astronauts to the International Space Station, NASA officials said during a televised press conference Sept. 16 at the Kennedy Space Center. Boeing’s contract is $4.2 billion and SpaceX was awarded $2.6 billion.
    NASA's space shuttle program ended in July 2011, leaving American astronauts dependent on Russian spacecraft for transportation to the station. In a blog post earlier this year, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden lamented the country's dependence on Russia. But he was excited at the press conference.
    “Today, we’re one step closer to launching our astronauts from U.S. soil on American spacecraft and ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia by 2017,” he said. He added that turning over low-Earth orbit transportation to private industry will allow NASA to concentrate on future Mars missions.
    The two commercial spacecrafts still must undergo a testing and evaluation process.
    “Once NASA determines SpaceX and Boeing have met our requirements, the systems will be certified for NASA human spaceflight missions,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. “They will then conduct at least two, and up to six, missions under these contracts, to deliver a crew of four to the International Space Station.”
    Along with transporting the crew, the spacecraft will carry cargo and experiments to the station. It could also serve as a “space station lifeboat for up to 210 days, keeping our crew members safe in the event of an emergency,” Lueders said.
    NASA spokesmen wouldn’t discuss the selection process or give contract details. And when asked why Boeing’s contract -- $4.2 billion -- was significantly more than the $2.6 billion contract awarded SpaceX, Leuders offered this explanation:
    “Both Boeing and SpaceX proposed to the same set of requirements. NASA awarded the contracts based on their proposals. It is two contracts to the same requirements.”
    The SpaceX contract is for the Crew Dragon. Boeing’s space capsule is the CST-100.  
    On its company website, Boeing said that the spacecraft was built for NASA, but“it "hopes to take commercial passengers and other governments to space one day.”  


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