NASA announced during a live conference today that it is contracting Boeing and SpaceX to send U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station with commercial spacecraft beginning in 2017. This will remove the U.S.’s reliance on the Russian space launches that are currently the only access to the ISS and allow for work to continue on the station while NASA preps a new generation of shuttles.
During the announcement, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was visibly excited about the change, noting that it was the first step in a program that will allow NASA to deliver a wave of new manned space flights in the 2020s, including manned trips to an asteroid, to beyond the moon’s orbit, to LaGrange points in our own planet’s orbit, and to Mars.
Bolden and other NASA administrators acknowledged during the announcement that both companies would be working with NASA to ensure that their craft could withstand multiple manned launches and re-entries. From the Commercial Crew Program blog: “NASA is committed to ensuring the/these systems are held to the same rigorous safety standards as previous government human spaceflight systems. We have worked carefully and diligently to assure our safety requirements span all mission phases and adequately address hazards, including pad emergencies, in-flight aborts and emergency landings.”
Both Boeing and SpaceX receiving commercial crew work from NASA came as a bit of a surprise to those expecting the administration to announce the acceptance of a commercial NASA flight proposal from only one of them. According to the Wall Street Journal, “SpaceX, as the company is known, is a rival to Boeing.” SpaceX is headed by PayPal founder Elon Musk and has been in development of commercial space flight in parallel with Blue Origin, headed by Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos. Blue Origin’s development is overseen by Boeing and the NASA announcement effectively puts the two competitors under the same umbrella.
In the meantime, Stubby the Rocket will continue to zip around the cosmos, unfettered by the concerns of gravity.