The dawn of manned commercial spaceflight received a major boost as NASA announced in a news conference today that Boeing and SpaceX have been chosen to ferry US astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). The US$6.8 billion contract was divided between the two companies to cover the cost of certification of the Boeing CST-100 and the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, one demonstration mission for each, plus six commercial missions to the station.
Under the terms of the contracts, each company will continue development of its spacecraft and complete the certification process, which includes a demonstration flight to the ISS by 2017 with at least one NASA astronaut aboard. If this step is successfully completed, each company will then carry out three missions each to the station.
Both the Boeing and SpaceX craft are part of complete space transportation systems developed, built, and operated by their respective companies, and were developed in part under a public-private partnership with NASA to encourage private industry to take over the ferrying of US astronauts to the ISS after the retirement of the US Space Shuttle.
NASA says that after the current contracts are completed, other companies would be invited to provide additional spacecraft and services if the ISS mission is extended.
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