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SpaceX to ferry astronauts to space station

SpaceX got official word Friday that it will launch astronauts from Kennedy Space Center to the International Space Station, according to NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The order came six months after NASA said Boeing (BA) would fly crews in CST-100 Starliner capsules launched by Atlas V rockets from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SpaceX, a private company based in California, will use its Dragon capsules.spacex-toppermanual

“It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions,” Kathy Lueders, manager of the KSC-based Commercial Crew Program, said in a press release. “It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan.”

Though Boeing’s order came first, it has not yet been determined which company will fly the first official mission to the space station after NASA certifies the programs’ safety. Both companies plan to launch orbital test flights, first without a crew and then with a crew. NASA hopes one company is ready to fly by late 2017, and until then will continue to depend on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to ferry astronauts up and down from the station orbiting 250 miles up.

“The authority to proceed with Dragon’s first operational crew mission is a significant milestone in the Commercial Crew Program and a great source of pride for the entire SpaceX team,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief operating officer. “When Crew Dragon takes NASA astronauts to the space station in 2017, they will be riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown. We’re honored to be developing this capability for NASA and our country.” A SpaceX rocket exploded June 28 about 2 minutes after liftoff in Florida as it carried an unmanned Dragon capsule. Before the failure, the company’s Falcon 9 rocket had flown 18 successful launches including seven flights to the International Space Station.