TECH

NASA's New Manned Spacecraft Are Incredibly Cool. And Cheap.

17/09/2014 10:12 BST | Updated 17/09/2014 10:59 BST

NASA has announced the two companies that will help it blast American astronauts back into space.

Currently NASA relies on ageing Russian Soyuz capsules to lift its crews to space.

But if all goes well, Boeing and SpaceX will both build craft capable of taking astronauts to the International Space Station by 2017 (and one day maybe beyond), in combination with the new Space Launch System rocket.

NASA made the announcement on Tuesday after five years of development.

The new craft are technologically advanced, but are more crucially also very cheap in terms of development cost. NASA said the new systems were made in conjunction with the private companies at a "fraction" of the cost of the Space Shuttle programme.

The first of these craft is the SpaceX Dragon 2:

And the second is the Boeing CST-100:

The two companies will both launch at least one one crewed flight test. The contract allows for between two and six full flights each. The capsules will also be used as lifeboats for the ISS.

Here's what NASA administrator Charles Bolden had to say:

"From day one, the Obama Administration made clear that the greatest nation on Earth should not be dependent on other nations to get into space. Thanks to the leadership of President Obama, the hard work of our NASA and industry teams, and support from Congress, today we are one step closer to launching our astronauts from U.S. soil on American spacecraft and ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia by 2017. Turning over low-Earth orbit transportation to private industry will also allow NASA to focus on an even more ambitious mission – sending humans to Mars."