CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) – NASA is a giant step closer to launching Americans again from U.S. soil.
Yesterday, the space agency picked Boeing and SpaceX to transport astronauts to the International Space Station in the next few years.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden named the winners of the competition at Kennedy Space Centre, next door to where the launches should occur in a few years.
The wall behind him was emblazoned with the words “Launch America” and “Commercial crew transportation/The mission is in sight”.
“I want you to look behind me,” Bolden said, pointing both thumbs to the big, bright logos. “I’m giddy today, I will admit.”
The deal will end NASA’s expensive reliance on Russia to ferry astronauts to and from the space station. NASA has set a goal of 2017 for the first launch from Cape Canaveral, but stressed it will not sacrifice safety to meet that date.
NASA ended up going with a blend of old and new space: big traditional Boeing, which helped build the space station and prepped the space shuttles, and smaller, scrappier upstart SpaceX. Just 12 years old, the California-based SpaceX already is delivering supplies to the space station – its crew capsule is a version of its cargo carrier.
NASA will pay Boeing $4.2 billion and SpaceX $2.6 billion to certify, test and fly their crew capsules. The two contracts call for at least two and as many as six missions for a crew of four as well as supplies and scientific experiments, said NASA’s Kathy Lueders, commercial crew programme manager. The spacecraft will double as emergency lifeboats at the orbiting outpost.
The third major contender, Sierra Nevada Corp., had the most novel entry, a mini-shuttle named Dream Chaser that it was developing in Colorado.