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'Space taxis' move one step closer to reality

September 20, 2011 |  5:22 pm

Space_taxi

"Space taxis" may be the vehicle of the future.

Now that NASA's space shuttle fleet has been retired, the space agency is looking to commercially built "space taxis" to help astronauts commute to the International Space Station and other destinations in low Earth orbit.

NASA is working with several private companies -- including Boeing, Blue Origin (from Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos), Sierra Nevada and SpaceX -- to fund the development of rockets capable of taking people to and from space. On Monday, the space agency provided a clearer outline of how this partnership will work.

An "integrated design contract" as large as $1.61 billion will be awarded to companies that provide the agency with a complete end-to-end design, including spacecraft, launch vehicles, launch services, ground and mission operations and recovery. In other words, companies that want in will have to give NASA plans for the whole space-travel shebang before they can get a contract. The contract would run from July 2012 through April 2014.

"This is a significant step forward in America's amazing story of space exploration," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a news release. "It's further evidence that we are committed to implementing our plan ... to outsource our space transportation so NASA can focus its energy and resources on deep space exploration."

Think of the possibilities.

In the same release, NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Ed Mango said, "We look forward to strong U.S. industry response."

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--Deborah Netburn

Image: The first space taxi? A schematic of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft as it would look in orbit. Credit: AFP/Getty Images.

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