SpaceX Get Key NASA Contracts While Elon Musk Shows Softer Side

SpaceXElon Musk had a big week, even for him. The self-made multi-billionaire behind PayPal, Tesla Motors, Solar City and SpaceX saw the latter company get an important NASA deal, become a shoe-in for another government one and he made a guest starring appearance on one of the highest rated TV sitcoms. One day after the notoriously less than warm and fuzzy Elon Musk showed his softer side in a guest spot on the Thanksgiving episode of The Big Bang Theory, NASA announced that the entrepreneur’s SpaceX company was getting a key NASA contract to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA formally announced on Friday that they are awarding four missions to carry astronauts to the SpaceX (they also awarded missions to Boeing). The announcement was not entirely a surprise, but shows that a disastrous rocket crash last year did not deter the deal.

Since the Space Shuttles were retired four years ago, transportation of personnel to and from the ISS for the 16 nations involved must rely on the Russian Federal Space Agency for at least the next two years. The Russians charge a steep price for those seats, however. NASA told Congress that the seats on Russia’s Soyuz rockets cost $82 million each. The manned flights to the ISS by Boeing and SpaceX are expected to start in 2017. During that time, NASA will pay Russia about half a billions dollars for space flights, a situation that does not sit well with many considering deteriorating relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russian government.

It was also announced last week that SpaceX is undoubtedly going to get the government contract for the Air Force’s next generation of GPS satellites, which are expected to begin being launched in 2018. The company had been competing with a joint venture between Lockheed and Boeing called United Launch Alliance (ULA), which previous had a monopoly on launches for the U.S. military. But ULA pulled out of the bidding largely because their rocket engines come from Russia and Congress wants to restrict their use for military purposes. SpaceX had been blocked from bidding earlier for the military contract, but was granted the right after suing.

That SpaceX tenacity to be a player in the future of the space program, both militarily and with the ISS, reflects Musk’s legendary ambition. The South African-born entrepreneur’s drive is clear, but so is his track record with his numerous start-ups.

Musk played a kinder, gentler version of himself on Big Bang Theory. In the episode that aired Thursday, engineer and one-time astronaut Howard Wolowitz (portrayed by Simon Helberg) reluctantly agrees to help serve Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless shelter. Howard wind up washing the dishes, and who comes in with a load of dirty dishes – Musk. While the appearance stopped Howard’s whining, it did not really add much more than a chance for Musk to appear appealing and humble helping the homeless. (At least when Stephen Hawking is on the show, he is funny.) But the show did allow Elon Musk to demonstrate his softer side, and with the key NASA contracts SpaceX is getting set up a possible return to space for Howard. One can only hope.

Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss

TIME: SpaceX Will Officially Carry Astronauts to the Space Station
CNN Money: Elon Musk’s SpaceX set to get its first military contract
Los Angeles Times: SpaceX wins NASA deal to fly astronauts to space station
GeekWire: SpaceX’s Elon Musk gets in the Thanksgiving spirit on ‘The Big Bang Theory’
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
CBS News: NASA: Seats on Russian rockets will cost U.S. $490 million

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