Private space firms SpaceX and Boeing on track to launch NASA astronauts soon

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Jan 27, 2015, 5:09 PM EST

Following the budget cuts at NASA, the U.S. space agency reached out to private space exploration companies to fill the void left behind once the shuttle program was shut down in 2011.

That was a while back, and the folks at NASA held a press conference earlier this week to offer up an update on the process — and both SpaceX and Boeing have hit some major milestones on the way to eventually shuttling U.S. astronauts into space, specifically to the International Space Station (ISS). At the moment, NASA is relying on Russia to carry U.S. astronauts into space.

SpaceX has been leading the charge, and The Verge reports that the company has completed the first certification milestone in its Commercial Crew Program commitment. Much of the next 10 months will be spent testing potential abort procedures in the company’s Dragon capsule for eventual human flight. The company hopes to carry its first crew to the ISS in 2016.

Boeing is also on track with its CST-100 craft, which will apparently carry the first mission before SpaceX. The CST-100 is set for a major design review in March, and assuming it goes well, the company is set to start manufacturing immediately. Both separate projects put a high value on reusability, with SpaceX’s Dragon eyeing propulsive landing, while the Boeing craft should be recoverable and reusable up to 10 times.

Using private companies like SpaceX and Boeing should also save a boatload of money for cash-strapped NASA, which is currently paying an average of $70 million per seat to Russia for ISS flights. The Commercial Crew Program, in comparison, will cost just $58 million per seat. Still a lot of dough, sure, but that $12 million per-seat savings should add up quickly.

(Via The Verge)