Life After Shuttles

Today may be the big day, but even as the shuttle Discovery sits on the launch pad awaiting blastoff, NASA works dilligently on its next big manned thing: The nation's ever-busy space agency announced yesterday that it awarded Lockheed Martin Corp. and a team from Boeing Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. each a contract valued at about $28 million to develop designs for the much anticipated manned spacecraft to replace the nation's old fleet of space shuttles.

If it goes as planned, in eight months, NASA will select the winning design of a six-astronaut Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) -- the spacecraft that is to take earthlings beyond low-Earth orbit after the space shuttle is retired in 2010, and then to the moon, perhaps as soon as 2015 . . . The final CEV contract could be worth billion of dollars.

(Any bets on who the winning CEV contractor will be?)

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