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NASA picks U.S. rocket launch partners

NASA picks U.S. rocket launch partners
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Space travel is changing. After a years-long competition, U.S. space agency NASA has selected two private companies to provide rocket launches for humans. With this green light, can private space travel be far behind?

Remember back when the country was captivated by the Apollo missions and NASA's journey to the moon? It was a time of patriotism and amazing technological development in this country. Now, it looks like those times could be back again because NASA has contracted two U.S. companies to launch our astronauts into space using American rockets for the first time since the shuttle program ended in 2011.

The announcement couldn't come at a better time. On this day in 1976, NASA showed off its first ever space shuttle, the Enterprise. Now, almost 40 years later, the U.S. is taking the next big step in space travel and exploration.

From the beginning of the space program until the end of the Space Shuttle program three years ago, manned U.S. rockets were all government designed, owned and operated. Since the Shuttle's retirement, NASA has relied on Russia to send its astronauts up to the International Space Station - at a heavy cost. Russia charged $71 million per astronaut, and NASA ended up paying over $400 million total.

But, those days are over. That's because NASA has chosen two private American companies to develop a space taxi service to bring our astronauts to space.

Boeing and SpaceX

NASA has brought in two very different companies to develop shuttles for astronauts. Boeing is an old-school contractor that has plenty of experience working with this kind of technology. On the other hand, SpaceX is the startup from Tesla founder Elon Musk that is shaking up the world of space travel. It was the first company to deliver cargo to the International Space Station.

SpaceX is developing a capsule that could carry 7 astronauts. Watch this video to see what the capsule will look like.

In the past, SpaceX has criticized Boeing and its partner Lockheed Martin for using a Russian-made engine in its Atlas V rocket. But, The Washington Post is reporting that the company is expected to start using an American-made engine developed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' company Blue Origin.

If that's true, the contracts make sure that NASA's money is continuing to be invested in American companies and will help promote more space travel technology development. Hopefully this new wave of space travel will inspire adults and children to become even more interested in science and technology just like the Enterprise did in 1976.

NASA hopes that investing government money into private enterprises will help touch off a broader commercial space industry. In addition to NASA, foreign governments, scientists and the super rich would also be able to buy seats on the ships, officials say.

These new contracts will also allow NASA to focus more on its exploratory missions because it won't have to spend time creating its own rockets and shuttles to get astronauts into space in the first place. NASA will focus on one mission in particular - sending astronauts to Mars!

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