With all the news about the Curiosity Rover and SpaceX’s unmanned foray to the International Space Station, space exploration is back in the news in a way it hasn’t been for years. But one crucial and important thing is missing: a new spacecraft to replace the retired Shuttle and provide the future of human spaceflight for NASA. A NASA press release reveals that they’re focused on solving that problem, partnering with three companies to “design and develop the next generation of U.S. human spaceflight capabilities.”
The first of these partners is Boeing, which has been allotted $460 million. SpaceX is on board to the tune of $440 million, a clear sign that they are a major player in the space industry and here to stay. Finally, the Colorado-based Sierra Nevada Company, which focuses on system integration, will be receiving $212.5 million. That sounds like a lot at first glance — and it is. But when you consider the magnitude of the task, and the fact that Forbes recently estimated these past Olympics cost roughly $15 billion, it suddenly doesn’t seem as staggering. Especially when you factor in the technological advances that inevitably derive from this sort of research.
The project is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative, which is focused on “[facilitating] the development of a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability with the goal of achieving safe, reliable and cost-effective access to and from the International Space Station and low Earth orbit.” When they finally develop a reliable new spacecraft, it could be used both by NASA and by commercial interests. The stated goal is to design and develop this new craft within the next five years.
William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, explained the importance of the project:
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.
You can read the full press release over at NASA’s website.