May 29, 2015 04:09 PM EDT
Since the retirement of the shuttle program, the restoration of launching American astronauts to the International Space Station from American soil by 2017 has been a goal of NASA. Now, that goal has taken a giant leap forward as NASA has ordered its first commercial spaceflight mission from Boeing.
Assuming the company meets NASA's human spaceflight certification milestones, Boeing will launch its CST-100 astronaut crew capsule to the International Space Station in 2017.
"This occasion will go in the books of Boeing's nearly 100 years of aerospace and more than 50 years of space flight history," said John Elbon, vice president and general manager of Boeing's Space Exploration division, in a statement.
"We look forward to ushering in a new era in human space exploration."
Boeing was awarded a $4.2 billion contract in September 2014 by NASA to complete development and manufacturing of the CST-100 "space taxi" under the agency's Commercial Crew Transportation Capability program and NASA's Launch America initiative.
"Final development and certification are top priority for NASA and our commercial providers, but having an eye on the future is equally important to the commercial crew and station programs," said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.
"Our strategy will result in safe, reliable and cost-effective crew missions."
Boeing will first conduct both an unmanned and manned test flights early in 2017 prior to the operational crew rotation mission to confirm that they are ready and able to meet all of the certification requirements set by NASA.
"Orders under the CCtCap contracts are made two to three years prior to the missions to provide time for each company to manufacture and assemble the launch vehicle and spacecraft. In addition, each company must successfully complete the certification process before NASA will give the final approval for flight," says NASA.
Boeing received the mission from NASA because they have "successfully demonstrated to NASA that the Commercial Crew Transportation System has reached design maturity appropriate to proceed to assembly, integration and test activities."
Boeing isn't the only private company to receive a contract for shuttling astronauts to the International Space Station. SpaceX also received a contract from NASA worth $2.6 billion to build the Crew Dragon spacecraft that is launched atop its Falcon 9 rocket.
NASA is expected to order a commercial mission from SpaceX sometime later this year as well. NASA plans to decide later which company will be awarded the honor of becoming the first company to fly a commercial crew rotation to the ISS.
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