Unveils Sleek Spaceship To Fly U.S. Astronauts
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[May 30, 2014]
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. (Reuters) - Space
Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, on Thursday unveiled an upgraded
passenger version of the Dragon cargo ship NASA buys for resupply runs
to the International Space Station.
Rather than parachuting down into the ocean, the new capsule is
outfitted with beefed up motors and landing legs to make precision
touchdowns on land, said SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon
Musk, a billionaire technology entrepreneur who also runs the Tesla
Motors Inc electric car company.
"You'll be able to land anywhere on Earth with the accuracy of a
helicopter ... That is how a 21st century spaceship should land,"
Musk said before a jam-packed audience at SpaceX's Hawthorne,
More than 32,500 people also watched the Dragon unveiling on a live
Lifting the vehicle's hatch, Musk settled into a reclined
gold-and-black pilot's seat and pulled down a sleek, rounded glass
control panel. The cabin, designed to fly a crew of seven, looked
more like a Star Trek movie set than the flight deck of NASA's
now-retired space shuttle.
Dragon, which launches on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, is one of three
privately owned space taxis vying for NASA development funds and
The U.S. space agency turned over space station cargo runs and crew
ferry flights after retiring its fleet of shuttles in 2011. SpaceX
already has a $1.6 billion contract for 12 station resupply
missions. Orbital Sciences Corp has a separate, $1.9 billion
contract for eight cargo flights.
NASA also has been working with SpaceX, Boeing Co and privately
owned Sierra Nevada Corp on a related commercial program to develop
spaceships to fly astronauts, with the goal of breaking Russia's
monopoly on station crew transports before the end of 2017.
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The United States currently pays Russia more than $60 million per
person for round-trip flights on the Russian Soyuz capsule. The
price climbs to more than $70 million in 2016 and to $76 million in
Musk hopes to bring down the cost of flying in space by reusing both
the Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon spaceships.
"So long as we continue to throw away rockets and spacecraft we will
never have true access to space. It'll always be incredibly
expensive. If aircraft were thrown away with each flight, nobody
would be able to fly ... or very few," Musk said.
NASA is expected to select one or two space taxi designs this summer
for final development and test flights.
(Editing by Christopher Cushing)
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