In a steady and phased program that involved industry in the drive to set up a mechanism for sending humans up into low earth orbit and to the International Space Station, NASA took an important step today.
NASA entered agreements with three American commercial companies to design and develop the next generation of human spaceflight, under its Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative. The three companies, who were awarded $1 billion in federal funds for this venture, are Sierra Nevada Corporation ($212.5 million), Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) ($440 million), and the Boeing Company ($460 million).
It is apparent that this initiative will ultimately replace the space shuttle program, which was shut down last year after 30 long years. It is also a move to improve the availability of jobs and end the outsourcing of human spaceflight, according to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
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Progress on the plan is already being made. It may be recalled that one of the three partners above, SpaceX, created history end-May 2012, when its Dragon spacecraft became the first commercial spacecraft to dock with the international space station, and to inter-transfer materia,l such as food, provisions, and student experiments. Not only that, it was also the first reusable cargo vehicle.
To mark the occasion of the agreements, SpaceX announced today that it planned to launch its first manned flight by 2015, using the Dragon spacecraft and the Falcon 9 rocket. “This is a decisive milestone in human spaceflight, and sets an exciting course for the next phase of American space exploration,” said SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer, Elon Musk. “SpaceX, along with our partners at NASA, will continue to push the boundaries of space technology to develop the safest, most advanced crew vehicle ever flown.”
William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in Washington, said of the occasion, “For 50 years American industry has helped NASA push boundaries, enabling us to live, work, and learn in the unique environment of microgravity and low Earth orbit. The benefits to humanity from these endeavors are incalculable. We’re counting on the creativity of industry to provide the next generation of transportation to low Earth orbit and expand human presence, making space accessible and open for business.”