After weeks of subtle hints, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. CEO Elon Musk on Thursday will unveil its latest “space taxi,” the next in a line of ships built with NASA made to ferry American astronauts and equipment to the International Space Station without help from Russia.
“Cover drops on May 29. Actual flight design hardware of crew Dragon, not a mockup,” the billionaire business magnate tweeted on April 29.
Space and astronomy website Universe Today reported Tuesday that the unveiling will be held at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California for a private audience.
In 2012, the original Dragon model became the first nongovernment spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and return safely to earth. It has made the trip several times since then. The new ship, called the Dragon V2, is an updated version outfitted to carry a crew. And, it's the latest result of a $1.6 billion public-private partnership with NASA to ensure American crews can get to and from the station on their own.
Astronauts currently use Russian Soyuz capsules to make the trip, at a cost of $71 million per person for a ride to the ISS. The U.S. has an outstanding bill of $457.9 million for Russia's services, according to The Week, a British news magazine that also publishes a U.S. edition.
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NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a March blog post scolding Congress that it's “unacceptable" that the U.S. relies on Russia to ferry American astronauts to the space station, The Washington Post reported.
The situation is made more awkward given the current political tensions between Russia and the U.S. over Ukraine.
“After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest to the USA to bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline,” Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said last month on his Russian-language Twitter account.
That prompted Musk to respond via Twitter:
“Sounds like this might be a good time to unveil the new Dragon Mk 2 spaceship that @SpaceX has been working on with @NASA,” he wrote.
“No trampoline needed.”'
The event will be webcast live at this link on Thursday at 10 p.m. EDT (7 p.m. PST.)