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NASA will pay both Boeing and SpaceX to shuttle astronauts to space

NASA opened a new chapter on Tuesday, awarding $6.6 billion worth of contracts to two different companies that will transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Aerospace giant Boeing Corp. got $4.2 billion and Elon Musk's 12-year-old SpaceX will receive the other $2.6 billion, NASA administrator Charles Bolden announced at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The goal of outsourcing astronaut transportation to private U.S. companies is to end U.S. reliance on Russian transportation, now costing $71 million a seat, as well as to free up post-space shuttle NASA to concentrate on getting people to deep space and Mars. SpaceX says it will be able to get each astronaut to ISS for about $20 million.

NASA expects the first SpaceX and Boeing manned flights to leave in 2017. The contracts are for between two and six missions carrying four astronauts, plus supplies. The spacecraft will stay docked to the ISS, acting as escape capsules. Watch Bolden's announcement, along with some nice graphics, below. --Peter Weber