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SpaceX testing deal bodes well for New Mexico

New Mexico may have lost out on Tesla’s $5 billion battery plant, but its link to launching Americans into space again from U.S. soil grew stronger with NASA’s selection of Boeing and SpaceX to fly astronauts to the International Space Station.

SpaceX, another enterprise of Tesla’s daddy, billionaire Elon Musk, has a contract with New Mexico’s Spaceport America to test its reusable rocket. The third major contender in the competition was Sierra Nevada Corp., which developed the first rocket system for Virgin Galactic, the Spaceport’s lead tenant.

In 2010, SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corp.) was the first private company to launch a spacecraft into orbit and retrieve it. Its Dragon capsule made its first space station trip, carrying astronaut supplies, in 2012. That capsule has been retooled to carry as many as seven astronauts.

NASA will pay $4.2 billion to Boeing and $2.6 billion to SpaceX to transport the astronauts. The goal for the first launch from Cape Canaveral is 2017.

Once operational, the commercial transport program will end U.S. reliance on Russia to take astronauts to the station, which Russian Soyuz rockets have been doing since U.S. space shuttles were retired in 2011. That has been very expensive. A seat now costs $71 million.

For years, the goal has been for NASA to use private companies for space station transportation and to focus on getting astronauts into true outer space.

These contract awards are one more big step for mankind toward that goal. And that is good economic news for New Mexico and a big boost to Spaceport America’s place in space travel.

— Albuquerque Journal