Ever since NASA shut down the Space Shuttle program, its needed to rely on third parties — like the Russians or private companies — to get American astronauts into space. On Tuesday, the agency announced that it had lined up eight additional missions to carry Americans to and from the International Space Station. Four are going to SpaceX, and four are going to Boeing.
“Awarding these missions now will provide greater stability for the future space station crew rotation schedule, as well as reduce schedule and financial uncertainty for our providers,” NASA’s Phil McAlister said in a statement. “The ability to turn on missions as needed to meet the needs of the space station program is an important aspect of the Commercial Crew Program.”
Each launch can transport up to four astronauts and 220 pounds of cargo into space, and the commercial spacecraft will also serve in a “lifeboat capability” in case astronauts need to evacuate the ISS in an emergency.
With the newly awarded missions, SpaceX and Boeing are now on the hook for six launches apiece. Of course, neither SpaceX nor Boeing have conducted a successful uncrewed mission yet with the CST-100 Starliner or Crew Dragon, respectively. Boeing is going to launch an uncrewed test flight in June of 2018, while SpaceX will do theirs in November of 2017, with the hopes to launch a crewed test flight the following May.
Once all those take place (and assuming they go off without a hitch), the two companies can start shuttling NASA astronauts into space.