In 2017, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, and Boeing will return NASA to stars from launch pads in the United States. NASA made the step towards returning missions to U.S. soil with the announcement Tuesday that the space agency had selected Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Boeing to take over ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).
Charles Bolden, a NASA administrator, announced the pair of winners at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, which will eventually end the current, and expensive, deal with Russia to taxi American astronauts to the ISS and back again. NASA hopes that the missions will return to American soil within the next couple of years and once again return to Cape Canaveral.
Musk’s SpaceX, which is already ferrying supplies to the space station in a cargo version of their manned spacecraft, is a newcomer to the game. While Boeing, on the other hand, is a veteran player in the space game. Boeing prepped the now retired Space Shuttle fleet and helped in the construction of the ISS. The deal announced Tuesday will pay Musk’s company $2.6 billion and Boeing will receive $4.2 billion to test and certify the new spacecraft and fly the NASA missions to ISS to launch from American soil. The contracts state that at minimum, two missions will be flown and six at the maximum. These missions will consist of experiments, supplies and a crew of at least four astronauts headed to the space station, and the SpaceX craft will also serve as lifeboats for the ISS in case of an emergency that would require an evacuation of the space station.
Musk, the founder of electric car company Tesla, tweeted his excitement and how appreciative he was that NASA had placed the trust in SpaceX. Boeing vice president and general manager of space exploration John Elbon stated that Boeing had been a part of each U.S. space flight mission and that the company is honored to have been selected to continue that relationship with NASA.
Since 2011, at a cost of $71 million for each astronaut, the Russian’s have been flying at least four U.S. astronauts to the ISS each year. Musk’s endeavor will potentially save NASA $51 million a seat after indicating that the price tag to send an astronaut will cost $20 million.
In 2010, Musk’s company was the first private company to successfully launch and retrieve a spacecraft into orbit, and two years later, the Dragon capsule delivered supplies to the ISS astronauts. In an effort to win the NASA contract, SpaceX converted the cargo capsule into Dragon version two which can carry up to seven astronauts.
Boeing’s created the Crew Space Transportation capsule, or CST-100, as their entry that will ride on an Atlas V rocket. Boeing will build their capsules in a former space shuttle hanger at Cape Canaveral. This will add nearly 550 jobs to an area of Florida that has had economic problems since the shuttle program shut down. While the Atlas will launch Boing’s capsule off of American soil, SpaceX will use their own Falcon 9 rocket, which Musk hopes NASA will use to go even further than just trips to the ISS, potentially to the moon, or even further into space.
By Carl Auer