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SpaceX and Boeing awarded NASA contracts to carry American astronauts to space

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Tuesday, September 16, 2014, 9:49 PM - For years now, NASA has relied upon the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, to launch its astronauts to the International Space Station, but today sets the stage to change that and bring space launches back onto U.S. soil.

In a press conference this afternoon, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced that NASA was awarding contracts worth up to $6.8 billion to commercial spaceflight companies SpaceX and Boeing, as part of Launch America, the Commercial Crew Transportation program.

SpaceX, which is expected to receive $2.6 of the funding, has been flying missions to the International Space Station for over two and a half years now, starting with a test flight of the Dragon spacecraft in May of 2012, and three robotic commercial resupply missions since then. The next phase of their operations, which is scheduled to begin in 2018, involves the Dragon v2 spacecraft, which will fly human crews up to the space station and safely deliver them back to Earth (touching down on land using thrusters, no less).

Boeing, which will receiving up to $6.2 billion, has yet to make any launches to the ISS, but their CST-100 capsule is in development for just this purpose.

According to Administrator Borden's NASA blog: "The partnership with Boeing and SpaceX promises to give more people in America and around the world the opportunity to experience the wonder and exhilaration of spaceflight – to realize the dream of leaving Earth for even a short time to float above our planet Earth in microgravity and to see the stars and the majestic tapestry of the Milky Way unobstructed by the artificial lights and dust of our atmosphere. Space travelers also will be able to imagine and realize new benefits that can be brought back to Earth.
While Boeing and SpaceX handle the task of taking our astronauts to the space station, the scientists on Earth and astronauts on the orbiting ISS National Laboratory will continue the groundbreaking research that has been taking place there for almost 14 years now without interruption. They will be able to add to that portfolio with an expanded crew made possible by the arrival of these new spacecraft."

These new contracts are a step forward in NASA supporting commercial spaceflight, even as the agency continues to develop their Space Launch System, which is expected to deliver the largest, most powerful rocket ever developed for human spaceflight missions, and their Orion capsule, which will support crewed missions into space. Together, according to Borden, these two systems will be used "for missions in the next decade that will carry people far from our local space neighborhood."

Included with each company's contract is the requirement for at least one crewed flight, which must include at least one NASA astronaut to verify and validate all aspects of the mission, during launch, orbit and docking with the space station. After that, each company will be scheduled for between two and six missions to deliver crews to and from the station.

The press conference featuring the full announcement is in the embedded video below:

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