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Boeing and SpaceX embroiled in different kind of space race

(AP Photo)

A veritable space race is underway between Boeing and SpaceX, and it all involves a little American flag.

For seven years, we’ve been relying on Russia for rides to the International Space Station. Boeing wants to become the first company to carry American astronauts there as soon as next summer, but so does SpaceX. Both companies will operate competing space taxis for NASA, reports Mark Strassman at CBS.

Whoever gets there first will get the chance to ceremonially carry back a small American flag that was left in 2011 when Space Shuttle Atlantis took its last flight. Shuttle commander Chris Ferguson placed the flag as symbol, but now sees it as a goal.

“The next astronaut that launched from American soil that docked at the space station would get to bring the flag home,” he told CBS’s Mark Strassman. Boeing is producing a capsule that will carry Ferguson, and NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Eric Boe, meaning that Ferguson could recover the same flag he left.

RELATED: Can the Northwest compete in the coming space race?

That is, unless SpaceX gets there first. The company is developing their own ship called Crew Dragon, which is expected to carry NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the Space Station. Hurley piloted the flight that took the flag up in the first place.

“I have no problem with a little healthy competition,” Hurley told CBS. “It makes you better and it makes him better and it makes both companies better. And in the end, who benefits? The country. We get redundant access to space.”

A recent study from the Puget Sound Regional Council concluded that “Washington state and the central Puget Sound region are positioned to lead commercial space exploration and development.” They currently constitute about $1.8 billion in economic activity, with about 6,221 jobs supported across the entire economy.

Whether Boeing or SpaceX gets there first, it’s safe to say the astronauts will be doing a little more than just picking up a tiny flag.

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