(HOUSTON) — When the space shuttle Atlantis rolled to a stop on July 21, 2011, Commander Chris Ferguson noted the poignant end of the shuttle program: “Mission complete, Houston, after serving the world for over 30 years, the shuttle has earned its place in history, and it has come to a final stop.”
Now, after an expensive and ferocious four-year competition, NASA will announce on Tuesday if Boeing, Space X or Sierra Nevada will be the one to build the spacecraft to replace the space shuttle.
The winning design will end U.S. dependence on the Russian Soyuz for transportation back and forth to the International Space Station.
At stake is an $800 million, short-term contract worth potentially $3.4 billion to launch U.S. astronauts into space by the end of 2017, the year NASA’s current contract with Russia expires.
The Commercial Crew Program was designed by NASA to replace the retired space shuttle, which was the workhorse of the space program for over 30 years.
Boeing has invested in the CST 100 capsule which would launch on an Atlas V rocket — almost a turnkey proposition for NASA when you consider the company’s history in aerospace.
Sierra Nevada isn’t as well known, but it does have a good track record and its Dream Chaser space plane is eye catching. It would also launch on the Atlas V rocket and would be able to land on just about any commercial or military runway.
SpaceX has the advantage of already launching cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station and hopes to parlay that experience into a human version of its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.
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