The announcement of the “commercial crew” awards is a big step toward allowing the U.S. to end its reliance on Russia, which has been ferrying American astronauts to the space station since the retirement of the space shuttle three years ago. If the schedule doesn’t slip, and Boeing and SpaceX prove their vehicles are safe, NASA should see its astronauts launched on U.S. soil with American rockets by as early as 2017.
The awards represent a significant shift for NASA, which has long owned and operated its own rockets. Instead of going to space on government-owned vehicles, NASA’s astronauts would essentially rent space on ships provided by Boeing and SpaceX.
The contracts “highlight what commercial companies can accomplish and we are counting on them to deliver our most precious cargo,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s commercial crew program manager.
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