How NASA's New Spaceships Stack Up : The Two-Way Earlier this week, NASA awarded two contracts for new spaceships to commercial companies. Here's how they compare.
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How NASA's New Spaceships Stack Up

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How NASA's New Spaceships Stack Up

How NASA's New Spaceships Stack Up

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Earlier this week NASA made a major announcement. It picked two private companies to build spaceships for taking astronauts to the International Space Station. NASA hopes that both models will eventually be used by space tourists to get into orbit, which got us wondering which one would we want to fly in? NPR's Geoff Brumfiel has advice on what to think about when choosing your next spaceship.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Capsule one is called Dragon. It's built by the sexy California start up SpaceX.

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ELON MUSK: It's all-around, I think, really a big leap forward in technology. It really takes things to the next level.

BRUMFIEL: That was SpaceX founder Elon Musk, unveiling the Dragon earlier this summer at a promotional event that could have been for a new smartphone. Then, there's capsule number two. Its name isn't quite as good. It's called the CST-100, and it's built by the Ford of space companies, Boeing.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Boeing's been in this business - for 50 years we've been building spacecrafts. But I think we have really pulled together a world-class spacecraft that has benefitted from the ones that have come before it.

BRUMFIEL: Actually, the spaceships look a lot alike. They're both white. They're both shaped kind of like gumdrops. Keith Cowing runs the blog NASAWatch.

KEITH COWING: Well, both of them are offering sort of the same thing. It's a capsule that can carry seven people. It's launched on a commercial rocket. It takes off in Florida and it goes the International Space Station.

BRUMFIEL: They both have very little leg room. Initially, at least, both will use parachutes to land. And if those fail...

COWING: The inside of the spacecraft is designed to crumple - like a good car - it's designed to actually absorb the shock.

BRUMFIEL: So standard safety features. But if you think about it, cars have a lot of standard features - airbags, radios.

CLAY ANDERSON: If you look at a Cadillac or a Lexus or a Lamborghini, you know, all those basic functions are available on every vehicle.

BRUMFIEL: That's former astronaut Clay Anderson. He's flown the space shuttle and the Russian Soyuz. So we asked him how to choose a spaceship.

ANDERSON: It's when you get down to the quote, unquote, "creature comforts." Those are the things that will stand out to me.

BRUMFIEL: For example, there's a lot of waiting around before your spaceship actually launches.

ANDERSON: As you lie on your back on the launch pad, it'd be lovely to have, you know, some nice music.

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BRUMFIEL: T-minus 10 minutes to liftoff. Seriously though, Anderson says there is something that would make a big difference. The control panels on the old space shuttle were a nightmare to read. In the era of tablet computers, he wants spaceships to be more user-friendly.

ANDERSON: Touch screens, nice bright colors, reds that indicate emergencies, yellows that indicate cautions, greens that indicate A-OKs, that sort of thing.

BRUMFIEL: Boeing and SpaceX both have new displays standard on every model. But Keith Cowing says there is a difference.

COWING: The Boeing one does harken back to Apollo. It does have a bit of that look. And I've actually been on Apollo capsules. The SpaceX one, I've been in there and it's got a sci-fi vibe to it.

BRUMFIEL: SpaceX is sleeker, and it'd be his first choice. But honestly, he'd fly in either one, if it meant he got to go to space. Jeff Brumfiel, NPR News.

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