You might think, that as the most powerful country on Earth, as well as the world’s largest economy, the United States would have a way to get humans into space. The truth however is that since the cancellation of the Space Shuttle program, they have been relying on Russian craft to send NASA astronauts into space. Given recent geopolitical tensions with Russia, the US faces being completely locked out of space, should the situation further deteriorate.
NASA will give grants to private companies who are able to take astronauts to the ISS
In order to kickstart the private development of human-rated space vehicles in the US, NASA has been running their Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program. This program revolves around the creation of a commercial market for human spaceflight, whereby the US government will give grants to private companies who are able to take NASA astronauts to the International Space Station.
The competition for this money was very fierce, and in a press conference just yesterday, NASA unveiled their final winners. Of the three companies who were in the running for these contracts (Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada) two of them took home massive multi billion dollar contracts for commercial spaceflight by NASA.
With its CST-100 vehicle, Boeing took the bulk of the NASA money ($4.6 billion) in part due to the fact that the company had performed best in terms of NASA’s CCDev milestones. Boeing’s spacecraft in many ways resembles the Apollo craft which took humans to the moon in the late 60s, but with much larger seating capacity. The decision to award it the bulk of the money however was controversial, as the company may have used its longstanding connections to the US government to lobby for the contract.
The other portion of the money was awarded to Elon Musk’s upstart company SpaceX. His company received a smaller $2.4 billion sum as payment to take NASA astronauts to the ISS aboard the new ‘Dragon V2’ spacecraft. Already having made severally unmanned trips to the ISS the Dragon craft, features a highly futuristic interior, and advanced decent retro-rockets. SpaceX is expected to fly the first manned test flights of this vehicle next year, meaning it could the be the first of the two ‘space taxis’ to successfully deliver astronauts to the ISS.
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