Boeing and SpaceX Will Fly Astronauts to the International Space Station

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk poses by the Dragon V2 spacecraft after it was unveiled in Hawthorne, California May 29, 2014. Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

In a much anticipated announcement, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said today (Sep. 16) during a webcast that spacecraft made by Boeing Company and SpaceX will carry American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) by 2017.

Two vehicles, Boeing's CST-100 and SpaceX's Dragon V2, will launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida and take Americans into low Earth orbit, before docking with the ISS. Each company will run between two to six missions, carrying teams of four astronauts per mission.

The report ends months of speculation about what company or companies would win the contract, worth $6.8 billion, Bolden said. Boeing will receive $4.2 billion and SpaceX will get $2.6 billion. Each will have to pass safety tests before manned flights begin.

"This wasn't an easy choice, but it's the best choice for NASA and the nation," Bolden added.

Turning over commercial space flight to private industry will end the United State's reliance on Russia, the NASA administrator said. American astronauts currently use Russian Soyuz capsules to get to the station.

Bolden highlighted how the move would allow Americans to once again enter space, with homegrown technology. "I'm giddy today, I will admit," Bolden said.

The SpaceX Dragon V2 includes eight rockets, can carry seven, is 12 feet in diameter and can land with the "precision of a helicopter" anywhere in the world. Boeing's CST-100 has a slightly different design and is a touch larger at 15 feet in diameter. It is also designed to carry seven people into space.

Bolden said the move is a significant step toward transporting people out into space, for the first time since Americans visited the moon.

"The nation is going to Mars," he said, "and you can't get there if you don't have a robust low Earth infrastructure," such as the ISS, which these private crafts will help service.