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Cabs to the cosmos: NASA awards $1.1 billion to 'space taxi' development

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NASA announced Friday that Hawthorne-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or Space X, will receive $440 million toward developing small spaceships to take astronauts to the International Space Station.

Space X, founded by billionaire PayPal co-creator and Tesla Motors head, Elon Musk, was one of three aerospace companies named to develop the ferrying flying machines. Boeing was also selected to receive $460 million, and Sierra Nevada Corp. won a contract worth $212.5 million.   

"We have selected three companies that will help keep us on track to end the outsourcing of human spaceflight and create high-paying jobs in Florida and elsewhere across the country," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a statement.

Together, the winners will share more than $1.1 billion as part of NASA's efforts to get private companies to do what the space shuttle no longer does. Currently, the U.S. space agency relies on Russia for ISS transport at the cost of about $63 million per astronaut.

Two of the new ships are capsule-like in appearance ala Apollo era, with a third sticking closer in design to the space shuttle. Once built, NASA wants hire companies to taxi astronauts into space within five years. 

With private firms doing the heavy lifting in low-orbit, NASA can focus on larger, long-term goals, like sending crews to a nearby asteroid and Mars. The private companies could also see a spike in space bucks in tourism and other non-NASA endeavors.

The four companies not chosen for the program can still build private rocketships and NASA has the option to hire them in the future. Which is where we live now. In the future. Where space taxis exist. Almost.

With contributions from KPCC Wire Services

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