NASA will retire its fleet of space shuttles and is developing rockets and capsules to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. New transportation vehicles will soon be available.
According to news sources, and in keeping with the tradition of reaching for the moon, NASA is spending $500 million of federal economic stimulus funds to finish the International Space Station (ISS) by next year, retire the shuttles and develop new vehicles that can travel to the space station, the moon and other destinations in the solar system.
Commercial passenger transportation service to space will become a reality via two U.S. firms, Space Exploration Technologies, a privately held company known as SpaceX, and Orbital Sciences Corporation.
Aspiring spaceship operators will have 45 days to submit proposals, which will be competitively evaluated. The names of those who will be chosen to participate in the up and coming Commercial Crew Development program will be announced next month. The fleet of space shuttles will be retired next year after the U.S. completes seven more missions to finish construction of the $100 billion International Space Station, which orbits about 225 miles above Earth.
The next phase of the plan involves the purchase of rides for astronauts to and from the station from Russia, one of the 16 nations involved in the program. Developing a launch escape for its crew represents the $300 million upgrade for the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship, which is designated for passenger service.
SpaceX founder and chief executive, Elon Musk, told the media:
It’s a little disappointing that (the new program) is only $50 million. Fifty million is what it costs for one seat on the (Russian) Soyuz. The main thing that the public should be taking note of is that right now we are (solely dependent) on the Russians (for space transports) after 2010.
Only US firms are open to this competition that is certain to usher in a new era in space exploration.