Aerospace firm SpaceX announced Friday that it won a $440 million contract from NASA to modify its Dragon capsule for human space flight as a private-sector successor to the Space Shuttle. The plan is to launch the first Dragon flight carrying American astronauts by 2015.
The Dragon capsule can carry seven astronauts, and it launches aboard the 227 foot-tall SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. These vehicles proved themselves in May in an unmanned mission in which Dragon became the first private spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station.
Since that mission, SpaceX has undergone tests to ensure that the vehicles are ready for manned spaceflight. On July 17, Dragon passed NASA’s design review, which outlined its new launch pad emergency procedures, its life-support systems, cockpit design and propulsive landing system. While the unmanned Dragon splashed down in the ocean, the piloted version will have thrusters to guide it to a landing.
“This is a decisive milestone in human spaceflight and sets an exciting course for the next phase of American space exploration,” SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk said in a press release. “SpaceX, along with our partners at NASA, will continue to push the boundaries of space technology to develop the safest, most advanced crew vehicle ever flown.”
See also: Profile of SpaceX Founder Elon Musk