NASA taps Elon Musk's SpaceX to bring International Space Station out of orbit in a few more years

WASHINGTON (AP) — NASA has awarded SpaceX an $843 million contract to build the vehicle that will bring the International Space Station out of its longtime orbit of Earth when its operating lifespan ends in a few more years.

SpaceX, a privately held company controlled by technology mogul Elon Musk, will build the vehicle that will bring down the space station, but NASA will still oversee the eventual mission.

The International Space Station, launched in 1998, is expected to be needed to be brought out of orbit by 2030. The station is operated by space agencies from the U.S., Europe, Japan, Canada and Russia. All the countries involved have pledged to operate the station until 2030 except Russia, which has only committed to participate until 2028.

Crews of astronauts have been occupying the space station since 2000.

“The orbital laboratory remains a blueprint for science, exploration, and partnerships in space for the benefit of all,” said Ken Bowersox, NASA's associate administrator for space operations mission directorate.

The contract is another vote of confidence in the technological prowess of SpaceX, a rocket maker based in Hawthorne, California, that Musk founded in 2002 to explore new frontiers in space. Musk, 52, then became the driving force behind in Tesla, the electric car maker that accounts for most of his estimated fortune of $220 billion.