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Boeing has edge over Space-X in 'space taxi' race: WSJ

Joanna DiGeronimo

A big deal with NASA may be on the horizon for Boeing.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Chicago-based aerospace giant will likely win a multibillion-dollar contract from NASA to build "space taxis.” A space taxi ferries astronauts to and from orbit and the international space station. NASA has set a deadline to announce the award this month.

A deal with Boeing (BA) would be a blow to Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp., better known as Space-X. Space-X has been considered Boeing’s biggest competitor for the contract. Musk's company previously inked a deal with NASA to take equipment to the international space station.

But Yahoo Finance’s Rick Newman says Space-X likely will not walk away empty-handed if Boeing is awarded the contract. That’s because NASA needs a healthy private space industry. “The idea here is get two or three firms competing for these contracts,” he says, “And get all enough business to keep them going.” Newman believes that if Musk’s firm Space-X doesn’t win this deal, it will, “probably get sort of a consolation prize of a secondary contract.”

Space-X isn’t the only company vying for the contract. Sierra Nevada, a privately-held company that has participated in more than 70 previous NASA programs, is also in the running for the funding. A joint award is also possible.

The company awarded the contract would build, operate and maintain a fleet of space taxis which will replace NASA’s old fleet of space shuttles. The space shuttle fleet was retired in 2011.

NASA currently relies on Russian rockets to fly U.S. astronauts to and from the international space station. U.S. officials and policymakers are concerned about the reliance on the Russians to maintain such a large portion of the NASA’s space program. Yahoo Finance’s Newman says it is difficult for the Obama administration to put sanctions on Russia, and at the same time trust that this relationship can contiunue because, “They could pull the plug on it” at any time.

Relying on the Russians isn’t cheap either. The cost to transport a U.S. astronaut to the space station has ballooned to $70 million per seat.

Officials hope to end the rocket ride-sharing program with Russia by 2017. According to the WSJ report, space industry experts as well as government insiders say Boeing’s bid has emerged as the frontrunner because it is “the least risky option” and would most likely be ready for flight in the next three years.

NASA chief Charles Bolden could overrule any decision.

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