NASA announced Tuesday that it has selected Boeing and SpaceX to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. In total, these contracts are worth $6.8 billion: $4.2 billion for Boeing and $2.6 billion for SpaceX.
Since ending its space shuttle program in 2011, the U.S. has depended on Russian Soyuz capsules to ferry astronauts to the space station at a cost of $71 million per person. “Today’s announcement sets the stage for what promises to be the most ambitious and exciting chapter in history of NASA and human space flight,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden in a press conference.
The awarding of these contracts is a big deviation for NASA, which has historically owned and operated its own rockets. These two companies serve as interesting contrast to each other, with Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX, founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, representing a new crop of space startups, versus Chicago-based Boeing, a longtime player in the aerospace industry.
“We welcome today’s decision and the mission it advances with gratitude and seriousness of purpose,” Musk said in a statement. “It is a vital step in a journey that will ultimately take us to the stars and make humanity a multi-planet species.”
Both companies aim to perform a test flight to the ISS with an astronaut crew in 2017. They also have to meet five certification milestones, in addition to internal reviews. “Boeing and SpaceX will be paid on performance of these and other key milestones,” said commercial crew program manager Kathy Lueders. “These contracts highlight what commercial companies can accomplish and we’re counting on them to deliver our most precious cargo.”