NASA awards contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to bring astronauts into space

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NASA awards contracts to Boeing and SpaceX to bring astronauts into space
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk attends a press conference to unveil SpaceX's new seven-seat Dragon V2 spacecraft, in Hawthorne, California on May 29, 2014. The private spaceflight companys new seven-seat Dragon V2 will ferry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk (R) unveils SpaceX's new seven-seat Dragon V2 spacecraft, at a press conference in Hawthorne, California, May 29, 2014. The private spaceflight companys new manned space capsule will ferry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Retired NASA astronaut and current SpaceX engineer Garrett Reisman stands inside SpaceX's new seven-seat Dragon V2 spacecraft, at a press conference to unveil the new spaceship, in Hawthorne, California, May 29, 2014. The private spaceflight companys new manned space capsule will ferry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
SpaceX's new seven-seat Dragon V2 spacecraft is seen at a press conference to unveil the new spaceship, in Hawthorne, California, May 29, 2014. The private spaceflight companys new manned space capsule will ferry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
SpaceX's new seven-seat Dragon V2 spacecraft (L) is seen at a press conference to unveil the new spaceship, in Hawthorne, California, May 29, 2014. The private spaceflight companys new manned space capsule will ferry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
The entry hatch of SpaceX's new seven-seat Dragon V2 spacecraft is seen at a press conference to unveil the new spaceship, in Hawthorne, California on May 29, 2014. The private spaceflight companys new manned space capsule will ferry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveils SpaceX's new seven-seat Dragon V2 spacecraft, in Hawthorne, California on May 29, 2014. The private spaceflight companys new manned space capsule will ferry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk introduces SpaceX's Dragon V2 spacecraft, the companys next generation version of the Dragon ship designed to carry astronauts into space, at a press conference in Hawthorne, California, May 29, 2014. The private spaceflight companys unmanned Dragon spacecraft has been delivering cargo to the International Space Station three times since 2012. The new Dragon V2 will ferry NASA astronauts to and from the space station. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
HAWTHORNE-CA-MAY 29: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveils the company's new manned spacecraft, The Dragon V2, designed to carry astronauts into space during a news conference on May 29, 2014, in Hawthorne, California. The private spaceflight company has been flying unmanned capsules to the International Space Station delivering cargo for the past two years. The Dragon V2 manned spacecraft will ferry up to seven astronauts to low-Earth orbit. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk introduces SpaceX's Dragon V2 spacecraft, the companys next generation version of the Dragon ship designed to carry astronauts into space, at a press conference in Hawthorne, California, May 29, 2014. The private spaceflight companys unmanned Dragon spacecraft has been delivering cargo to the International Space Station three times since 2012. The new Dragon V2 will ferry NASA astronauts to and from the space station. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
HAWTHORNE-CA-MAY 29: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveils the company's new manned spacecraft, The Dragon V2, designed to carry astronauts into space during a news conference on May 29, 2014, in Hawthorne, California. The private spaceflight company has been flying unmanned capsules to the International Space Station delivering cargo for the past two years. The Dragon V2 will ferry up to seven astronauts to low-Earth orbit. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
HAWTHORNE-CA-MAY 29: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveils the company's new manned spacecraft, The Dragon V2, designed to carry astronauts into space during a news conference on May 29, 2014, in Hawthorne, California. The private spaceflight company has been flying unmanned capsules to the International Space Station delivering cargo for the past two years. The Dragon V2 manned spacecraft will ferry up to seven astronauts to low-Earth orbit. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
HAWTHORNE-CA-MAY 29: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveils the company's new manned spacecraft, The Dragon V2 (L) designed to carry astronauts into space with the Dragon unmanned spacecraft suspended in air during a news conference on May 29, 2014, in Hawthorne, California. The private spaceflight company has been flying unmanned capsules to the International Space Station delivering cargo for the past two years. The Dragon V2 manned spacecraft will ferry up to seven astronauts to low-Earth orbit. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
HAWTHORNE-CA-MAY 29: A view of inside the Dragon V2 manned capsule designed to carry astronauts after it was unveiled by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk during a news conference on May 29, 2014, in Hawthorne, California. The private spaceflight company has been flying unmanned capsules to the Space Station delivering cargo for the past two years. The Dragon V2 manned spacecraft will ferry up to seven astronauts to low-Earth orbit. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
HAWTHORNE-CA-MAY 29: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk speaks with invited guests inside the manned capsule Dragon V2 after unveiling it at the company's headquarters on May 29, 2014, in Hawthorne, California. The private spaceflight company has been flying unmanned capsules to the Space Station delivering cargo for the past two years. The Dragon V2 manned spacecraft will ferry up to seven astronauts to low-Earth orbit. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk watches a video animation of SpaceX's new Dragon V2 spacecraft, at a press conference to introduced the new manned space capsule in Hawthorne, California on May 29, 2014. The private spaceflight companys unmanned Dragon spacecraft new seven-seat Dragon V2 will ferry NASA astronauts to and from the space station. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
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By RYAN GORMAN

NASA has awarded contracts to Boeing and SpaceX that it hopes will carry astronauts to the International Space Station by 2017.

The agency made the historical announcement at a 4:00 p.m. press conference that announced the privatization of space travel for humans and NASA's ambition to land humans on Mars.

The nearly $7 billion in contracts represents a balance of old and new through the pairing of defense contractor Boeing and the upstart SpaceX.

Boeing has long built aircraft for the military and NASA, in addition to commercial airliners, but the Elon Musk-backed SpaceX has only recently begun transporting goods to the International Space Station.

SpaceX is set to make its fourth such delivery later this month, according to a Monday press release from NASA.

NASA administrator Charlie Bolden called this move "the most ambitious and exciting chapter in the history of NASA and human space flight."

It is a natural evolution, he explained, of President Barack Obama mandating that U.S. astronauts no longer rely on Russia for transport.

"The greatest nation on earth should not be reliant on Russian spacecraft," said Bolden, reiterating previous remarks made by the president.

As much as $6.8 billion will be awarded between the two firms as they work towards a 2017 deadline for certification to NASA standards for low-earth orbit, said Bolden.

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

NASA Gives Boeing, SpaceX Contracts to Fly Astronauts to ISS


Contracting out low-earth orbits will allow the space agency to focus on its ultimate goal: to send humans to Mars.

NASA has previously expressed a desire to land humans on the red planet. Scientists are currently working on the next generation of deep-space rockets they expect to eventually ferry humans further into space than ever before.

Previous reports indicated the choice was down to either Boeing or SpaceX.

"Boeing is the safe choice, SpaceX is the exciting choice and Sierra Nevada the interesting choice," Loren Thompson an analyst with Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Virginia-based research group, told Bloomberg last week.

Humans were first sent to the moon 45 years ago and NASA has since decommissioned the space shuttles used in the decades after the "Eagle" landed.

Other competitors included Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin, the latter of which is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Musk, the 43-year-old founder of Tesla, told reporters earlier this month that the "goals of SpaceX are very long-term, which is to establish a city on Mars," according to Bloomberg.

A NASA contract and funding would at least help nudge the startup in that direction, but it is not clear if NASA is willing to work with Musk to make that dream a reality.

One thing is for certain, NASA will no longer be flying space shuttles – to the space station or beyond.

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