Defense contractor Boeing said that it would send its own employees to space as it ratchets up its efforts to enter the private-space market as the U.S. ends its own national space-shuttle program.
The company said on Thursday that it plans to launch its spaceship towards the International Space Station powered by Atlas 5 rockets, but Friday followed up the announcement saying its own employees will go along for the ride.
It's CST-100 ship will be used on the first and second launches, but on the third, Boeing test pilots will take the vessel to the International Space Station.
The project is dependent upon additional funding from the government, however, though Boeing did not state specifics.
The use of United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rockets allows Boeing to focus on detailed design work on integrated systems for launch and operations, Boeing said.
"This selection marks a major step forward in Boeing's efforts to provide NASA with a proven launch capability as part of our complete commercial crew transportation service," said John Elbon, vice president and program manager of Commercial Crew Programs and the source selection official for Boeing.
Boeing's seven passenger ship, the CST-100 capsules, popularly known as "space taxis," will run three test flights planned in 2015.
The Atlas 5 rocket's record, with 26 successful flights and no failures over five years gave the rocket the edge over competitors, Elbon told reporters in a conference call.
"We are pleased Boeing selected the Atlas V rocket and believe it is the right vehicle to help usher in the new commercial era in human spaceflight," said George Sowers, ULA vice president of Business Development.
Boeing is among four firms sharing $269 million in NASA funds to start developing alternative crew transportation to the space station, following the retirement of the U.S. space shuttles last month.
Space Exploration Technologies, or simply SpaceX, and other private sector companies are vying to fill the void for transport to space after the U.S. government put the breaks on its own shuttle program.
SpaceX already has a number of test launches under its belt and plans more testing this winter, setting it up to be the front runner in the new race to space.
Another private company holding a contract with NASA is Orbital Sceinces Corp., which plans to launch the Cygnus resupply ship into space in February 2012.
Its chairman and CEO David Thompson noted that NASA's final Atlantis flight "was able to stock up the space station with supplies and consumables to buy some time for both us and SpaceX to get our cargo systems operational, but the pressure is on to get both of these delivery systems proven and into service over the course of the next year."
These are not rated for human transportation, however, just cargo.
Other companies, such as XCOR, Armadillo Aerospace and Blue Origin, are also developing suborbital passenger-carrying craft.
The return of Space shuttle Atlantis from the resupply flight on July 21 marked NASA's final shuttle mission that advanced America's half-century exploration of the space.
NASA is winding down its space shuttle operations this summer as it tries to save money, which will leave American and European astronauts with only Russian rockets as options for going into space. This opens the door for private space travel, however.
In February, the space shuttle Discovery, NASA's oldest and most travelled spacecraft, made its final voyage into space.
The country is focusing on inspiring 3rd part companies to put astronauts in orbit using privately run launch, transport and services companies.
NASA will now focus its resources on "deep space exploration", such as potential landings on asteroids and, eventually, Mars.