Hawthorne-based SpaceX was awarded its first contract from NASA to launch a manned mission to the International Space Station, NASA officials announced Friday.
SpaceX — or Space Exploration Technologies — has sent unmanned supply ships to the space station, but the latest contract marks the first time it has been hired to send a crew to the orbiting base.
The company is the second to be awarded such a contract. Boeing was awarded a contract in May. It’s still unknown which company will actually be the first to fly its manned mission. The missions will mark a restart of American human spaceflight, which came to a halt with the end of the space shuttle program.
The missions likely will not occur until at least late 2017.
“It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. “It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan.”
According to NASA, the SpaceX and Boeing missions will be cheaper than paying the Russian Federal Space Agency to transport American astronauts to the International Space Station. The missions call for up to four crew members and about 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. The spacecraft would remain at the station for up to 210 days and be available as an “emergency lifeboat.”
SpaceX will carry out the mission with its Crew Dragon spacecraft.
“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,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX. “When Crew Dragon takes NASA astronauts to the space station in 2017, they will be riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown. We’re honored to be developing this capability for NASA and our country.”