NASA's pre-Christmas press release:
"NASA has awarded two contracts -- one to Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., and one to Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif. -- for commercial cargo resupply services to the International Space Station. At the time of award, NASA has ordered eight flights valued at about $1.9 billion from Orbital and 12 flights valued at about $1.6 billion from SpaceX.
These fixed-price indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts will begin Jan. 1, 2009, and are effective through Dec. 31, 2016. The contracts each call for the delivery of a minimum of 20 metric tons of upmass cargo to the space station."
COMMENT. Private space companies have been agitating for years for NASA to get serious about the goal, going back to the Reagan administration, of handing off some serious spaceflight responsibility to private enterprise. I've been one voice (okay, a very minor one) urging that the idea deserved a tryout on a meaningful scale. Well, now it's reality, and we will learn whether the firms involved can really provide delivery, on schedule and on budget, to a customer in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) (which, just to make it more fun, resides at a most inconvenient inclination, thanks to that move-the-space-station decision which will be argued over forever). So hearty congratulations to Orbital and to SpaceX. Now let's see if you can put your launch mass where your mouth is.