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Three firms share 1.1 bln USD NASA fund for manned spacecraft

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 — Three firms have won over 1.1 billion U.S. dollars in contracts from NASA to develop spacecraft capable of carrying astronauts to the International Space Station, the U.S. space agency said Friday.

Boeing, a longtime NASA contractor, will receive 460 million dollars for the development of its CST-100 vessel. SpaceX, which recently wowed the world by performing the first successful docking of a privately-owned craft, the Dragon, with the International Space Station, will receive the next-largest chunk, some 440 million dollars. That will be used to continue the development of a crewed version of the Dragon.

Sierra Nevada Corp. will receive about 212.5 million dollars to further work on its Dream Chaser spacecraft, which is perhaps most visually and functionally similar to the retired fleet of NASA space shuttles.

The funding awards are the third set given under NASA's Commercial Crew Program, an effort that kicked off in 2010 to whittle down those companies that say they can provide viable replacements for the space shuttle. The first funding awards were worth a total of 50 million dollars and the second funding awards were worth 315 million dollars.

"Today, we are announcing another critical step toward launching our astronauts from U.S. soil on space systems built by American companies," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. "We have selected three companies that will help keep us on track to end the outsourcing of human spaceflight and create high-paying jobs in Florida and elsewhere across the country."

Until their retirement last summer, U.S. space shuttles carried most of the gear and many of the astronauts to the orbiting outpost. Since then, American astronauts have had to rely on Russian capsules for rides. European, Japanese and Russian supply ships have been delivering cargo.

NASA is looking to the private sector, in this post-shuttle era, to get American astronauts launching again from U.S. soil. It will be at least four to five years before SpaceX or any other private operator is capable of flying astronauts. (PNA/Xinhua) CTB/rsm

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