NASA turns down Utah firm to develop space taxis

MAGNA, Utah (AP) — An aerospace company that employs hundreds of people in northern Utah has reacted with disappointment to NASA's selection of three competitors to build small rocketships to take astronauts to the International Space Station.

NASA did not specify why it rejected Alliant Techsystems Inc.'s proposed Liberty rocket project when it announced the selections Friday. ATK is headquartered in Arlington, Va., with its aerospace division based in Magna.

In a statement obtained by Logan's Herald Journal (http://bit.ly/Mo6qWa), the company made no mention of how Friday's decision could impact jobs in Utah.

"ATK and the Liberty Team are disappointed that we were not selected by NASA," the statement says. "We continue to believe Liberty provides the safest, most cost-effective crew and cargo transportation systems, as well as the fastest path to recover America's human launch capability ... We look forward to a debriefing from NASA."

The three companies selected are the Boeing Co. of Houston, Space Exploration Technologies, called SpaceX, of Hawthorne, Calif., and Sierra Nevada Corp. of Louisville, Colo.

This is the third phase of NASA's efforts to get private space companies to take over the job of the now-retired space shuttle. The companies will share more than $1.1 billion. Two of the ships are capsules like in the Apollo era and the third is closer in design to the space shuttle.

Once the spaceships are built, NASA plans to hire the private companies to taxi astronauts into space within five years. Until they are ready, NASA is paying Russia about $63 million per astronaut to do the job.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said he would team up with U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee to investigate how NASA arrived at its decision.

Bishop said ATK is a proven leader in the space industry and the proposed Liberty program was ranked highly for its technical merit and low risk.

"I am disappointed and disheartened by the news that NASA has excluded ATK from the companies that were awarded the contract," he told The Herald Journal. "I have been concerned that favoritism may be playing far too prominent of a role in NASA's decision-making process, especially with regards to companies closely tied to key NASA officials."

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