When the Space Shuttle retires as scheduled in June, NASA will be dependent on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS). Based on a recent $753 million contract NASA awarded to the Russian Federal Space Agency, these outsourced services cost U.S. taxpayers roughly $63 million per seat.
It’s doubtless a hefty price tag, but NASA lacks U.S.-based alternatives—so far, anyway. American businesses are, nonetheless, vying for agency funds with which to advance U.S.-built spacecraft and related technologies. Such a contract was just announced; yet, the contract amount is but 10 percent of that awarded to Russia’s space agency.
Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) won a $75 million, Congressionally mandated award from NASA as part of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) initiative started in 2009. NASA’s CCDev awards are intended to stimulate efforts within the private sector, encouraging the development, maturation, and demonstration of human spaceflight technologies and capabilities.
Under this specific contract award, SpaceX will develop a launch escape system for its Dragon, enabling the company’s spacecraft to carry astronauts. Considered by many to be the Space Shuttle’s successor, Dragon is designed to carry seven astronauts to the space station, the cost of which would be $20 million a seat, reveals a spokesperson.
“This award will accelerate our efforts to develop the next-generation rockets and spacecraft for human transportation,” explains Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and chief designer. “With NASA’s support, SpaceX will be ready to fly its first manned mission in 2014.”
This geek, dedicated to fostering innovation in the U.S., calls out to his brethren: engineers, computer scientists, chemists, mathematicians, physicists, and systems integrators and systems architects; U.S.-based companies such as SpaceX in Texas, Virgin Galactic in New Mexico, and Boeing in the Northwest; technology companies, such as Mentor Graphics and others, offering tools for designing and developing radiation-hardened tools and spacecraft avionics. Let’s bring that nearly $1 billion dollars back to the U.S. Let’s fly Americans to space aboard private spacecraft conceived, designed, and developed right here in the U.S.