NASA Begins Outsourcing ISS Supply Missions to Private CompaniesS

Following (some) successful launches and prior rumors of deals, NASA has given SpaceX and Orbital massive contracts to send supplies to the ISS.

The contracts, for $1.6bn and $1.9bn respectively, demand each company to deliver about 20 tons of vital cargo to the International Space Station. The private flights will serve as a temporary holdover during the period between NASA's Shuttle and Constellation programs, sending supplies from 2010 until 2016, at least. Details of this particular contract aside, this does set a precedent for the outsourcing of critical tasks—not just hardware manufacturing—to reputable private companies, so if SpaceX and Orbital pull this off without accidentally rear-ending the ISS or overshooting all of NASA's Tang into the moon, then they could drastically change the nature of the agency. [NASA via Bad Astronomy]