NASA is no longer using its in-house space shuttle to send astronauts into space; it was decommissioned in 2011, and since then, NASA now relies on third-party companies to produce spacecraft capable of sending people past the Earth's atmosphere and to the International Space Station, such as SpaceX and Boeing.
Although a recent attempt to send a SpaceX rocket to the International Space Station was a failure, SpaceX continues to be a major partner to NASA in creating powerful gravity-fighting rockets. Both SpaceX and Boeing are set to work with four NASA astronauts to go up into space on commercially built spacecraft.
It's a pretty big deal, because the lives of these four astronauts depend in the working functionality of these spacecraft, which will be created and tested in 2017. Moreover, having a USA-made rocket send people into space will reduce NASA's dependency of Russia to send people into space, and bring space launches back to American soil.
The four astronauts NASA has chosen for the task are veteran pilots by the names of Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Douglas Hurley and Sunita Williams.
"Congratulations to Bob, Doug, Eric and Suni on being the first group of astronauts selected for flight training as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program," a SpaceX spokesperson noted in a recent statement.
Boeing also had something to say, "We look forward to working with such a highly-skilled and experienced group of NASA astronauts as we carve a path forward to launch in 2017."
Their roles will be to work with SpaceX and Boeing to produce safe spacecraft capable of sending astronauts to the International Space Station and back, and more importantly, they will be the ones flying the new spacecraft back and forth, from Earth to the International Space Station.
You can meet the astronauts in the video below:
SpaceX has developed the SpaceX Dragon, while Boeing has developed the Boeing CST-100. Both spacecraft are theoretically capable of safely transporting astronauts to space without a hitch, but the trial runs in 2017 will be the real test.
This will hopefully open up an entirely new era in space travel for the U.S.A, as well as NASA.