NASA awards $270M to spacecraft builders

NASA on Monday awarded almost $270 million to developers of four U.S. spacecraft that are the frontrunners to fly astronauts after the shuttle.

Two capsules, a space plane and a gumdrop-shaped spacecraft were selected under a program seeking to develop commercial vehicles to taxi astronauts to the International Space Station or other destinations by the middle of the decade.

After two more shuttle flights, NASA will rely on Russian spacecraft for rides to the space station until a U.S. commercial service becomes available.

"We're committed to safely transporting U.S. astronauts on American-made spacecraft and ending the outsourcing of this work to foreign governments," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. "These agreements are significant milestones in NASA's plans to take advantage of American ingenuity to get to low-Earth orbit, so we can concentrate our resources on deep space exploration."

NASA hopes privately run crew transportation will cost less than a government-run system, allow the agency to focus on building a giant rocket and capsule for exploration and help spur a market for commercial spaceflight.

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