When Atlantis lands at the end of its current mission, that will spell the end of the 30-year space shuttle program — and the beginning of a years-long hiatus in NASA’s capability to launch humans into orbit. Thousands will be losing their jobs, including employees at Boeing and at United Space Alliance, the Boeing-Lockheed Martin venture that’s the main shuttle contractor. Work on the CST-100 will only partially close the employment gap.
NASA has committed more than $110 million so far to the development of Boeing’s CST-100 capsule for ferrying up to seven astronauts to and from the space station, beginning as early as 2015. Boeing is partnering with “new space” companies such as XCOR Aerospace, Bigelow Aerospace and Space Adventures on its bid. It’s even playing a supporting role on Sierra Nevada’s rival project to build a winged mini-shuttle for NASA’s use.