Space agency NASA has named aerospace giant Boeing and newcomer SpaceX to fly US astronauts into orbit aboard the first commercial spacecraft beginning 2017 - the next step in the United States’ human space programme. The announcement brings NASA closer to flying its own astronauts into space, after relying on Russian transport since 2011.
US milestones in human space flight since the moon landings:
December 1972: Final Apollo mission is the last of six US manned moon landings. Eugene Cernan is the last man to walk on the lunar surface.
1976-77: Prototype shuttle Enterprise, named for the spacecraft in the Star Trek series, is rolled out and conducts glide-approach and landing tests.
April 12, 1981: Columbia blasts off on first shuttle flight into space.
April 1983: Shuttle Challenger makes first flight; first spacewalk by a shuttle crew.
January 1986: Challenger explodes less than two minutes after blastoff, killing all seven crew members.
December 1988: Endeavour brings first US element to new International Space Station.
April 1990: Shuttle Discovery deploys Hubble Space Telescope.
June 1995: First shuttle docking with the Russian space station Mir.
November 2, 2000: Expedition 1 reaches the International Space Station in a Soyuz capsule, delivering one US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts - beginning the continuous habitation of the orbiting laboratory.
February 2003: Columbia disintegrates on re-entry, killing all seven astronauts. July 2005: Shuttle flights resume; Discovery makes flight to International Space Station.
July 21, 2011: Shuttle Atlantis lands in the 135th and final mission of the orbiter programme.
April 2012: Space shuttle Discovery arrives at its final home at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, marking the end of the 30-year shuttle programme.
May 2012: SpaceX Dragon becomes first commercially developed space vehicle to be launched to the International Space Station. The flight restores US capability to deliver cargo to the orbital laboratory.
September 2013: Space company Orbital Sciences launches mission to International Space Station, making it the second privately owned spacecraft to resupply the space outpost.
September 16, 2014: NASA announces that Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon version 2 will be used for two to six missions each, starting 2017. Both reusable spacecraft revive the capsule style of the 1960s Apollo era, and can each carry up to seven astronauts plus cargo.