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NASA contracts SpaceX for crew mission to International Space Station

By Marilyn Malara
NASA contracts SpaceX for crew mission to International Space Station
Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida undergoes modifications by SpaceX. Photo by SpaceX/NASA

HAWTHORNE, Calif., Nov. 21 (UPI) -- SpaceX will be making its first manned flight to the International Space Station after NASA awarded the private space company a crew transport contract Friday.

The space agency is expected to make two more orders as part of its Commercial Crew Transportation Capability program. Boeing was given NASA's first mission order for its CST-100 Starliner in May.

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SpaceX -- owned by Tesla CEO Elon Musk -- will use its Crew Dragon spacecraft to transport astronauts to the International Space Station in late 2017.

"It's really nice to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions," NASA manager of the crew program Kathy Lueders said. "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."

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The program is part of NASA's efforts to return manned space travel capabilities to U.S. soil. The agency currently pays Russia to send astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

A standard crew mission will carry up to four astronauts and over 200 pounds of cargo. SpaceX has previously launched cargo resupply missions to the station. Earlier this year, SpaceX launched a Dragon cargo capsule to the ISS, but failed to successfully land its Falcon 9 rocket, developed to be reusable, in a test.

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Meanwhile, SpaceX is now the sole bidder on a Pentagon launch contract after United Launch Alliance last week withdrew from the competition. ULA, a Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture, hasn't faced competition for national security satellite launches in a decade.

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