Posted by Courtney E. Howard
WASHINGTON, 20 April 2011. Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) won a $75 million NASA contract to develop a launch escape system that will enable the company’s Dragon spacecraft to carry astronauts. The Congressionally mandated award is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) initiative, begun in 2009 to help private companies mature concepts and technologies for human spaceflight. Under the award, SpaceX will modify Dragon to accommodate crew.
"This award will accelerate our efforts to develop the next-generation rockets and spacecraft for human transportation," says Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and chief designer. "With NASA’s support, SpaceX will be ready to fly its first manned mission in 2014."
The flight-proven Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft represent the safest and fastest path to American crew transportation capability, according to Musk. Many Falcon 9 and Dragon components needed to transport humans to low-Earth orbit have already been demonstrated in flight. Both vehicles were designed from the outset to fly people, says a representative.
A December 8th, 2010 demonstration flight of Falcon 9 and Dragon was the first flight under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program, initiated to provide commercial cargo services to the International Space Station. After the Space Shuttle retires, SpaceX will fly at least 12 missions to carry cargo to and from the International Space Station as part of the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract for NASA.