NASA took another step toward ferrying its astronauts to the International Space Station Sept. 16, announcing that it was awarding the Commercial Crew contract to two American companies — Boeing and SpaceX.
Boeing was given a $4.2 billion contract and SpaceX was awarded a $2.6 billion pact, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told the assembled crowd at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The SpaceX Dragon and Boeing CST-100 crew capsules will launch from KSC and eventually put an end to the space agency’s reliance on Russia and the $71 million cost per seat.
“From day one, the Obama Administration made clear that the greatest nation on Earth should not be dependent on other nations to get into space,” Bolden said. “Thanks to the leadership of President Obama, the hard work of our NASA and industry teams, and support from Congress, today we are 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.
“Turning over low-Earth orbit transportation to private industry will also allow NASA to focus on an even more ambitious mission – sending humans to Mars,” he added, apparently hopeful they could meet the November 2017 deadline when the current contract with Russia expires.
“Boeing has been part of every American human space flight program, and we’re honored that NASA has chosen us to continue that legacy,” said Boeing Space Exploration Vice President and General Manager John Elbon.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk added, “SpaceX is deeply honored by the trust NASA has placed in us. We welcome today’s decision and the mission it advances with gratitude and seriousness of purpose.”
In making the announcement, NASA officials said the contracts include “at least one crewed flight test per company with at least one astronaut aboard to verify the fully integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the space station, as well as validate all its systems perform as expected.”
Once the tests are successfully completed and certified by NASA engineering experts, each contractor will conduct at least two, and as many as six, crewed missions to the space station. These spacecraft also will serve as a lifeboat for astronauts aboard the station, officials added.
“We are excited to see our industry partners close in on operational flights to the International Space Station, an extraordinary feat industry and the NASA family began just four years ago,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
“This space agency has long been a technology innovator, and now we also can say we are an American business innovator, spurring job creation and opening up new markets to the private sector. The agency and our partners have many important steps to finish, but we have shown we can do the tough work required and excel in ways few would dare to hope.”
NASA said the companies will own and operate the crew transportation systems and be able to sell human space transportation services to other customers in addition to NASA, thereby reducing the costs for all customers.
Why the difference in amounts given the companies? They were given the amount listed in their proposals, the amount each company felt their system would cost, a spokesman said.
Blue Origin and a Sierra Nevada/Lockheed Martin partnership also competed for the awards.