NASA Contracts Boeing, SpaceX

A photo of the international space station.
A photo of the international space station.
  As the first and only nation to send people to the moon, the United States is a veritable juggernaut of all things extraterrestrial, however in recent years they have fallen into line with other modern superpowers. No longer is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) sending people to the moon, with the end of their Apollo program, the only manned Beyond Low Earth Orbit program it had, coming in 1972. No longer is it even sending astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) with its own transports, now using Russian Soyuz Rockets as the sole means of accessing the multinational Low Earth Orbit research satellite. Not only must NASA now rely upon the Russian Soyuz rockets for transport to the ISS, they must also pay the Russian government 70 Million dollars per seat on one of them and are subject to the schedule that the Russian launches follow. This greatly restricts the ability of NASA to send Astronauts to the ISS and to play a larger role in the artificial satellite which they helped to build. But compared to the costs associated with NASA maintaining and launching rockets itself, it is paltry pay. A single launch of one of its shuttles was estimated by NASA to be approximately 1.5 Billion dollars, let alone the cost of storing, servicing, and upgrading the shuttles, and hefting a lifetime cost of nearly 200 Billion dollars. With this in mind, it seems reasonable for the US to end the shuttle program and to rely on Russia for transportation, and the symbiotic relationship that NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency (RKA) share only adds to the reasons for this approach. However, in light of the recent events in Ukraine and other satellites of the former USSR and the sanctions that the US has placed on Russia as a result, the relationship between the two countries has soured, and so too has the relationship between NASA and the RKA. This has led Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin to say that “[Russia plans] to use the ISS exactly up to 2020,” the agreed upon end date for involvement in the ISS before the recent proposal from the US to extend use until 2024, meaning that the US would be left unable to access the ISS on Soyuz rockets. With the tenuity of the Russia/USA relationship and more specifically the NASA/RKA relationship, NASA is looking for alternative methods of transportation, and they are looking to the private sector to step up. While many companies have technology and services to offer NASA, the two that stick out are a step up from the rest, the first being Boeing, a multinational behemoth of aeronautics. Boeing has been forging relationships with the US government for decades as a contractor, and is among the largest in aircraft manufacturing as well as being a prominent provider of satellites and rockets. The other, SpaceX, is a relative newcomer to the field, having been established in 2002 by Elon Musk, a co-founder of other renowned companies such as Tesla Motors and PayPal for reducing space transportation costs and colonizing Mars. While any normal startup, especially one in such an exacting field, would have nearly no chance of competing with the established businesses, SpaceX has the advantage of being funded by a Billionaire. With money comes not only highly skilled people, but also the ability to work on grand projects and the wiggle room to innovate.. While both companies are very different, they show similar quality and reliability, and the contract from NASA, which grants Boeing 4.2 Billion dollars and SpaceX 2.6 Billion dollars to provide “space taxis” for NASA astronauts, will surely help to bolster their standings in the world. As industrials analyst Christian Mayes said, “the win in space is important symbolically” for Boeing, but it "is not going to move the needle," in terms of stock or profit, as space network businesses of the company constitute merely 10 percent of their total revenue. Being a well funded company already, SpaceX is also affected the same way, with Musk noting that “SpaceX is deeply honored by the trust NASA has placed in [it]" and that "it is a vital step in a journey that will ultimately take us to the stars and make humanity a multi-planet species." For NASA and for the future of the US in space, this means that they will have the wherewithal to travel to the ISS in the foreseeable future. It also means that the private sector will be stimulated to advance space travel and technology further, and with the resources and freedom that it inherently has, hopefully faster.

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