NASA has given its seal of approval (and a lot of money) to SpaceX and three other private companies, as part of its Commercial Crew Development (CCDev2) initiative -- a program designed to spur the development of U.S. commercial spaceflight. The agency awarded a total of $270 million to the four lucky winners, with Boeing receiving $92.3 million to help develop its CST-100 capsule design, and the Sierra Nevada Corporation garnering $80 million, which will go toward its shuttle-like Dream Chaser craft. The smallest prize ($22 million) went to Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, which is reportedly looking to create a cone-shaped craft capable of carrying crew members into the abyss. And then, of course, there's SpaceX, the proud recipient of a cool $75 million in NASA funds. The California-based company has already successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule, and is currently working on the Falcon Heavy -- a 22-story craft heralded as the "world's most powerful rocket." NASA's extra dough should give a little boost to SpaceX's projects, but the funds are contingent upon improvements in Dragon's crew-carrying capacities, to be carried out over the next year. If all goes well, we may see one of these companies launch an intergalactic 'taxi' service by the middle of the decade. Saddle up!

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NASA awards $270 million to SpaceX and other commercial spaceflight ventures