NASA is bringing space travel back to the United States. The agency announced this week that Boeing and SpaceX will transport American astronauts to the International Space Station using their CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecrafts. The private contracts are worth $4.2 billion and $2.6 billion, respectively.
The contracts are needed after Russia decided to halt NASA’s use of their rockets. Disputes between Washington and Moscow over Syria, Ukraine and other foreign policy matters have soured relations between the two countries. The goal is to end dependence on Russia in 2017.
“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,” NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“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 continued.
The new contracts will require NASA certification for human space transportation system capability. Once the certification is complete, NASA will use the systems to transport astronauts to the ISS and return them back to Earth. At least one crewed flight test will be used to verify launch ability, maneuverability, docking, and that all systems work as expected. Both Boeing and SpaceX’s spacecrafts will be capable of re-entry and will be re-usable for future missions.
NASA says that the companies will own and operate the spacecrafts. They will also be allowed to sell human space travel to other customers, opening the door to space tourism in the United States. The goal is to reduce the overall cost for its customers, including NASA.
“By encouraging private companies to handle launches to low-Earth orbit — a region NASA’s been visiting since 1962 — the nation’s space agency can focus on getting the most research and experience out of America’s investment in the International Space Station,” NASA says. “NASA also can focus on building spacecraft and rockets for deep space missions, including flights to Mars.”