NASA Announces Return to Manned Spaceflight

Boeing and SpaceX were awarded contracts to provide flights to the International Space Station.
9:55 | 09/16/14

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Transcript for NASA Announces Return to Manned Spaceflight
The partnerships with Boeing -- SpaceX promised to give more people in America and around the world the opportunity to experience the wonder -- exhilaration of space -- To realize the dream of leaving earth for even a short time to float above our planet earth. In micro gravity and to see the stars in -- and majestic tapestry of the Milky Way. Unobstructed by the artificial lights and -- of -- atmosphere. Boeing and SpaceX sharing a nearly seven billion dollar contract for flights to the International Space Station. Hello everyone I'm Michelle Franzen in New York the United States now no longer reliant on Russia. NASA announcing today it will now be in charge of sending Americans to the International Space Station. Boeing won the primary contract for its CST 100 design. And SpaceX will get a smaller contract from NASA for human -- material transportation. ABC's claims and -- met up with former astronaut Christopher Ferguson now with Boeing. To learn more about the CST 100 and the future of space travel. So Tommy what are we looking at here. -- so this is the CST 100 this is the internal view and actually this is what our vehicles and look like this is. A commercial do you crew vehicle it will take paying passengers initially NASA astronauts and perhaps paying passengers of the international space. So it's designed NASA wants to transport four astronauts back and forth to the International Space Station you'll notice there's a fifth seat down. We would like to use this fifth seed like the Russians -- -- use the deceit perhaps it. If the -- -- program invites a tourist maybe we'd like to -- -- -- up there for a couple weeks designed to be operated by a single pilot which is why he sees through the fastest surface of -- instrument console. And actually the vehicles designed to be autonomous and automatic. So that means that from the time it's launched it should know exactly what to do. It will find home with you will find the International Space Station but that's said we always have the capability to take over. If if something happens if we need to become involved. And we can of course fly manually and dock manually -- -- you see here is actually exists on the other side of the astronauts that we were. Dominican astronauts but this is our -- going capability. The the -- -- would be occupied by astronauts in the seats OK and then we don't we docked with the space station its we would. It into the space station through there's -- perhaps before space travel was always relegated to government astronauts and test pilots you know here for the first time for the first time. Somebody who perhaps has space travel on their bucket list may be able to someday do it themselves and the more we do this in more inexpensive it will become and more importantly the more reliable safe -- so I look upon this is an on road to bring more of the public and not to alienate. And you want haven't actually flying in space in just the next few years. Well we're our test program begins -- -- seventeen so two and a half years away a lot closer than a lot of us it's gonna go very quickly let's put it that way. ABC's -- and out there with astronaut Chris Ferguson. For more on the decision by NASA I want to bring in David Alexander director of rice university's space institute. Thanks for joining us -- nearly seven billion dollar contract and it's going to Boeing and -- CS TE 100. -- can you tell us about their -- Well I think it's and -- -- very strong companies going for this contract. Very different designs to some respects using different raucous in some cases and com NASA the tough choice what I'm really pleased about it -- it and he chose more than one. I think it's important that redundancy and -- a couple of these companies and their expertise involved in this an exciting -- -- space exploration. I think and look forward to seeing how to develop. What does this contract mean for the future of US space flights. Well I think it's really important I mean I think what could take -- partnership with the Russians over the last many years you know with. The building of the space station and more recently transporting their astronauts up there. I think issue in court and America has its -- capability and this is a step toward cyanide. The transition to commercial rather than government let. I think he's really important that opens up OS orbit for -- -- different. Exploration activities not just trips to the -- to. And going of course beat out two other companies. And SpaceX beat out other companies for this contract let's talk about Sierra Nevada their design it seems -- similar to the old space shuttles. -- here -- about two in case there's really uninteresting machine and and that is different from the other two counts of the crew capsule -- it was a listing body. So we're not -- attitude. Lions. Under its own -- steam so to speak you know -- quite an -- lined almost anywhere. And it was a little bit like many -- Com -- the other to your course of capsules. The some differences in the in the design of the capsules and but I think that. In -- was a tough competition interesting there was a lot of really good ideas and -- development and I think that will carry forward. Funded or otherwise I think that in the momentum is in. The compassionate side of things for -- for companies like Sierra Nevada where you know it and when the contract this time two to -- forward. And to start exploring left orbit down. You know hopefully with humans. Now let's talk a little bit about SpaceX is thought to have the cheaper bid with their dragon rocket. Why do you think they didn't get the main contract. It's really hard to tell him and I think SpaceX obviously wanted to one of the advantages they bring is that you have got there -- rocket. And -- some arguments being made -- that rocket is would be much cheaper. That ended in the usual course that's yet to be soon prevent. But I think that -- has a very strong case is CST 100 does as a fantastic machine and going has a very strong heritage. And I think you know I think that's probably what sweep today nothing gets a sentence many times -- -- he. There's very tough competition between three -- and strong competitiveness. And how quickly could we see US astronauts be using these new Boeing rockets. Well so and so the it's not going -- is that going capsule but I think need to test flights are human -- -- 2017. -- I think we can see if everything goes as planned to I think we concede the first humans on -- error. There -- CST under Capps who probably -- the united sometime in 27 team. I'm not sure exactly when the first manifest station has but it we -- it after assuming those tests horror. Successful. -- in recent news but it will be and that's as Charles Bolden spoke about why NASA needed to recently human space -- here's what he had to say. From -- one. The Obama administration is made it very clear that the greatest nation on earth should not be dependent on any -- nation to get into space. And US astronauts using Russian spacecraft the courts courts to get to the -- that. Becoming sort of an awkward relationship right because of recent developments. Well I think the I think the space agencies have always had a very strong relationship. -- in the last 22 years. But you never can tell what's happening out of -- of that -- and an -- -- -- a -- political things happening -- -- Russia and the and the US is not the best -- relations right now. Visit the space connection seems to be still quite strong but it. -- especially is as the political system of them. You know the ramifications of false you know the sanctions on on Russian and so on developed so. I think it's really -- it two and -- it even without I think it was important for America it happens on capability equipment. -- once -- nation in the world will. For for us not be able to fly. Our -- astronauts as a little bit embarrassing since you get to see that this is back on track can and then who. Who will be amended tallies have barely. Patriotic very passionate gentlemen interesting -- I think usual occurrence -- that it -- were moving forward in this direction. And certainly within the community there seems to be a lot of excitement and a lot of innovation but what about for the larger upcoming projects for NASA. And the public there's also supposed to be a manned mission to asteroid by 20/20 five cents a manned mission to Mars -- -- -- thirty. Well I think. -- sort of goes to those states that the logo -- -- because I think we're probably expecting us to bill ultimately turn. But what this does do is NASA has -- the last fifty years of its history keeping the way to space. And it's really excite -- now live neither were in you know 2014. We are able not to truck transition some of them over to the commercial companies insinuated airlines. Went from government slice if you like to to the commercial industry. So not sure exciting and what that does then is freeing NASA up to two. It gets farther away from low earth orbit. Maybe go to an asteroid ultimately hopefully go to Mars with humans as well as robards. And that's a really exciting phase -- -- that we can we can manage to balance those two. Two efforts in Manassas -- -- in the in the next phase I'm really excited to see how that progresses. David Alexander director of the rice university's space institute thank you very much for joining. -- -- -- -- You can keep up this story in real time by downloading the ABC news -- and starring this story for -- exclusive updates on the go. For now I'm Michelle Franzen in New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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