NASA has given Hawthorne-based Space X and local divisions of Boeing Co. the chance to get into the astronaut business. The two companies, along with Sierra Nevada Corp. of Sparks, Nev., will be developing rockets and spacecraft for manned launches to the space station. Boeing gets $460 million and Space X $440 million. With the end of the shuttle program, the space agency will be relying on private companies to build and transport space vehicles. This could bolster the local aerospace industry, which fell on hard times after the Cold War. It's essentially a new kind of space race, though the ultimate economic benefit to the area has yet to be determined. From the LAT:
Boeing engineers in Huntington Beach and Houston are working to develop a seven-person spaceship, dubbed the Crew Space Transportation-100, that is designed to fly atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The company won $460 million, the largest of the three awards, and expects the space capsule to be ready for test flights by 2016.
In May, SpaceX became the first private company to launch a spacecraft into orbit and have it dock with the International Space Station. The Dragon capsule was only carrying supplies at the time, but it was a technological and financial feat that had been accomplished before only by the world's most powerful government entities. The Dragon capsule is designed to carry seven astronauts, but SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said it still needed upgrades before an astronaut could strap in. The company is aiming for a manned test flight by 2015.