Boeing will help NASA get back into the business of transporting people to the International Space Station.
NASA announced on Wednesday that it has tasked Boeing to fly astronauts to the ISS in 2017, marking its first commercial order for a human spaceflight mission.
The “crew rotation mission” is part of a $4.2 billion contract Boeing inked with NASA this past September. NASA said that SpaceX, which signed a $2.6 billion contract with the space administration in September, will also receive an order later this year to send astronauts to the ISS.
“This occasion will go in the books of Boeing’s nearly 100 years of aerospace and more than 50 years of space flight history,” John Elbon, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s Space Exploration division, said in a statement. “We look forward to ushering in a new era in human space exploration.”
Boeing will fly its CST-100 seven-passenger spacecraft, which is being developed with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and can also carry cargo. The company is guaranteed at least two and up to six service flights as part of the contract.
SpaceX, meanwhile, will fly its Crew Dragon, which recently performed a successful abort test. SpaceX has already been flying unmanned missions to resupply the Space Station.
Speaking at the Museum of Flight in Seattle late last year, Boeing Chief Engineer Ted Goetz said SpaceX “drives us to be better” and noted how private companies will help NASA focus on other tasks.
“This will relieve NASA of the job of [sending astronauts to the ISS], or paying the Russians to do it,” Goetz said. “It will allow NASA to focus its resources on the other great things we want to do in space, like research on the Space Station, going to Mars, or maybe going back to the moon.”
NASA noted that “determination of which company will fly its mission to the station first will be made at a later time.” Both companies will need to pass certification tests between now and 2017 before they are approved for flight. NASA also warned that if it does not receive adequate funding it will have to “delay future milestones for both partners proportionally and extend sole reliance on Russia for crew access to the station.”