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NASA awards $1.1 billion to Boeing, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation

Three private companies – Boeing, SpaceX, and the Sierra Nevada Corporation – will share $1.1 billion from NASA to help restore the US human spaceflight program. 

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SpaceX's Dragon space capsule is detached from its docking port on the International Space Station in May 2012 before the spacecraft's return to Earth to end its first voyage to the orbiting lab.

NASA TV

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 NASA picked three aerospace companies Friday to build small rocketships to take astronauts to the International Space Station.

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.

In a statement, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said the move "will help keep us on track to tend the outsourcing of human spaceflight."

NASA hopes that by having private firms ferry astronauts into low Earth orbit, it can focus on larger long-term goals, like sending crews to a nearby asteroid and eventually Mars. The private companies can also make money in tourism and other non-NASA business.

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

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