(Photo : courtesy The Boeing Company)
The Boeing Company has officially entered the commercial space race with the CST-100, a modified water drop-shaped vehicle that can carry up to seven passengers.
During demonstrations of the flight vehicle at Boeing's Product Support Center in Houston, company officials strapped two astronauts into the craft - a clear illustration of the airplane company's new focus beyond Earth's atmosphere.
With the CST in its name standing for "Crew Space Transportation," the new space vehicle, which weighs more than 26,000 pounds and is similar to the Boeing-built Apollo capsules in the 1960s and 70s that took U.S. astronauts to the moon, is designed to be launched into space atop an Atlas 5 rocket, which Boeing operates in collaboration with fellow aerospace developer Lockheed-Martin .
Boeing is one of several companies competing for future contracts through the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Commercial Crew Program.
The other private space transport companies vying for the space agency's business include SpaceX, which is led by visionary entrepreneur Elon Musk and has completed two round-trip cargo trips to the International Space Station with its vehicles and is plans to certify its craft to carry human beings.
Since retiring its fleet of space shuttles in 2011, NASA hasn't had any vehicles of its own for transporting human beings into space. Instead, it's done what many in the U.S. consider the unthinkable - relying on the Russians for transport to and from space, in particular the International Space Station. That ongoing agreement has been extremely price for the U.S.
"The current contract is $63 million per seat," a Boeing official said on Fox News. "The United States just signed another contract for six flights for over $70 million per seat. If we perform that business here in the states, we can do it for less than that."
Congress last year approved $406 million for NASA to explore the development of privately-developed space transport vehicles, which the space agency hopes will yield a working spacecraft 2017.