NASA Contracts SpaceX to Send Astronauts to Orbit

Illustration for article titled NASA Contracts SpaceX to Send Astronauts to Orbit

In a major step forward for crewed commercial spaceflight, NASA has contracted private rocket company SpaceX to blast astronauts off US soil beginning in 2017.

It’s the second in a series of four crew mission orders NASA is expected to make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts, which the space agency says will reduce the cost of sending US astronauts to the ISS. (Right now, we buy our astronauts a ticket with Russia.) SpaceX joins Boeing, which received a similar contract in May.

“The authority to proceed with Dragon’s first operational crew mission is a significant milestone in the Commercial Crew Program and a great source of pride for the entire SpaceX team,” SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement.

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Indeed, closing this deal with NASA is probably a big relief for the commercial spaceflight company, which has spent the last few months reeling from a rocket explosion in June—the first botched launch in its history. That mishap, caused by a single faulty strut in the rocket’s second stage, resulted in the loss of 4,000 pounds of ISS-bound food, water, and scientific equipment. SpaceX hasn’t had a launch since, although the company’s planning to launch eleven miniature relay satellites later this year.

The contract, which includes anywhere from two to six missions, is a strong vote of confidence from NASA in spite of recent events. But before SpaceX or Boeing flies anyone, both companies will have to complete a rigorous certification process. Assuming all goes well, SpaceX is expected to send up its first astronauts in a Crew Dragon spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket in late 2017.

[NASA]

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DISCUSSION

“In a major step forward for crewed commercial spaceflight, NASA has contracted private rocket company SpaceX to blast astronauts off US soil beginning in 2017.

“...SpaceX joins Boeing, which received a similar contract in May.”

And see, here, I need to have some distinctions explained to me.

Isn’t Boeing also business in the private sector? Space X and Boeing both have publicly traded stock. They are both commercial endeavors. They are both serving a government customer. I’ll grant the Boeing is a staggeringly huge multinational corporation, and hidebound by more than 50 years of military contracts and huge business customers but it’s still essentially a private company. And Space X is also taking military contracts too.

So by my thinking Space X is just a new aerospace company—to join all the other aerospace companies there are in the world.

Or are we saying that Boeing is too much like Airbus—the EU’s quasi-private/quasi-government consortium that rivals the size of Boeing?

I guess what I’m confused over is how the press can toot Space X as a victory for the private sector when it’s still servicing government customers like NASA?

Wouldn’t it be more of a pure private sector thing if Space X only took business from other private companies and then just went into space without any involvement from NASA or the DoD at all?