The International Space Station, photographed by a crew member on the Space Shuttle Endeavor in a 2001 mission (Source: NASA)
Boeing and SpaceX will be the private companies that shuttle U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station, ending NASA’s reliance on Russia for transport to the research station since the U.S. shuttle program ended in 2011.
From a NASA release announcing the contracts for the two companies totaling $6.8 billion:
These Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts are designed to complete the NASA certification for human space transportation systems capable of carrying people into orbit. Once certification is complete, NASA plans to use these systems to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station and return them safely to Earth.
The companies selected to provide this transportation capability and the maximum potential value of their FAR-based firm fixed-price contracts are:
– The Boeing Company, Houston, $4.2 billion
– Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Hawthorne, California, $2.6 billion
The contracts include at least one crewed flight test per company with at least one NASA 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 each company’s test program has been completed successfully and its system achieves NASA certification, 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.
A couple initial responses from the Hill:
House Science, Space and Technology Committee chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas: “I congratulate Boeing and SpaceX on their achievements in the Commercial Crew Program. Both companies and the thousands of people they employ have a crucial task before them as they work to further U.S. space exploration. They also have a responsibility to the U.S. taxpayers who are making considerable contributions to the development of these commercial space capabilities.”
House Science ranking Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas: ”I am encouraged by today’s announcement as it will allow NASA, Boeing, and SpaceX to complete development, testing and certification of the needed capability. That capability must be proven safe according to NASA requirements and it must be cost-effective given the significant investment taxpayers are being asked to make. These partnerships are important and I look forward to monitoring their development because we need safe and reliable crew transport to allow the full and productive utilization of the ISS.”