NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine believes the billions his agency has invested in Elon Musk's SpaceX have been well worth it as the company prepares to launch astronauts for the first time this month.
"The investments that we have made into SpaceX and the investment SpaceX has made in itself have really resulted in I think something that is going to be very beneficial, not just for human space exploration, but beneficial for the economy," Bridenstine said during a press conference on Friday.
NASA has awarded SpaceX with several contracts over the past two decades, ranging from development of new spacecraft to transporting cargo to the International Space Station. Under the Commercial Crew program, NASA awarded SpaceX more than $3.1 billion to fund development of its Crew Dragon capsule. Boeing also received over $4.8 billion of investment from NASA to develop a competing spacecraft called Starliner.
However, while SpaceX is set to launch NASA astronauts in its spacecraft on May 27, Boeing's Starliner is about a year behind in development after significant software issues during a test flight. The Commercial Crew program is NASA's replacement for the Space Shuttle, which retired in 2011. Although the program is about two years behind in delivering on its original goals, Bridenstine said he believes it has overall been cost effective.
"Commercial Crew is going to demonstrate cost savings if you compare it to the Space Shuttle ... We're very pleased with the level of investment that we've made and what we're getting for that investment," Bridenstine said.
The two spacecraft developed for Commercial Crew will give NASA a ride for its astronauts to get to the International Space Station. For about the past decade, NASA has paid Russia to fly astronauts to the ISS.
"We need to have the capability of accessing space, not just for NASA, but for all of humanity," Bridenstine said.
Musk has said previously that SpaceX has spent "hundreds of millions of dollars" of its own cash in developing the spacecraft. Asked on Friday specifically how much, president and COO Gwynne Shotwell deferred.
"SpaceX invests heavily in our products but candidly I can't tell you what the investment has been in Dragon 2. Not because I don't want to. I don't know what the number is," Shotwell said.
She added that SpaceX "has worked closely with NASA since 2006," as flying people to space is the core of the company's mission.
"All that work is culminating to this historic event that we have upcoming here in just a few weeks," Shotwell said.
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