When NASA’s shuttle program came to an end three years ago, space felt farther away than ever. Less than half a century after the Moon landing, America seemed to have packed in its dreams of sending astronauts out into the black beyond. “The program’s end carries the force of cruel metaphor, coming at a time when limits are all we talk about. When we have no stars in our eyes,” Frank Bruni wrote in The New York Times in 2011.

Until this morning, that is, when NASA tweeted that it’s bringing back human spaceflight launched out of the U.S. In a press conference this afternoon, NASA administrator Charles Bolden (himself a veteran of four space missions) announced commercial partnerships with Boeing and SpaceX, whose crafts will start ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station as early as 2017.

Ever since the end of the shuttle program, NASA has been relying on Russian spacecraft to take astronauts to the ISS. But it’s pricey as hell ($70 million per butt in seat); and in case you missed it, political relations with Putin & Co. haven’t been so great lately. By putting ISS transport in the hands of U.S. companies, Bolden hopes to free up time and money for NASA to focus on future missions to Mars and beyond. Check out a full transcript of Bolden’s speech here—and try to ignore his crappy Michael Jackson joke.

[h/t Boing Boing]