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Boeing’s Latest Mission: Space

Boeing makes planes.

But to grow in the 21st century, the company knows it needs to do more than that.

For that reason, Boeing has been aggressively diversifying. Take space, for example.

The company was recently awarded a $460 million contract by NASA to pursue human spaceflight for government and commercial purposes. That's small change for a $55 billion company, but Boeing clearly sees space travel as a key component of its future.

So what makes Boeing think they are so likely to succeed?

"The reason it's going to work is the experience we have operating in this environment and the experience we have to open the market up to other people that are interested in human space exploration" said John Mulholland, VP of and Program Manage of Boeing's Commercial Crew Program.

Sierra Nevada Corporation and Elon Musk's SpaceX were also part of the overall $1.1 billion contract NASA awarded in August. Each company will work on creating a vehicle that will be able to transport astronauts into space for the first time since the shuttle program ended a little over a year ago. (Read More: Nasa Picks Firms for $1.1 Billion Space Taxi Program.)

NASA Program Manager for the Commercial Crew Program Ed Mango told CNBC that all three companies have very different approaches and hopes the diversity will push the companies to create the best design to get NASA back to the international space station.

Boeing's space vehicle is called the CST-100, and it will fit up to 7 crew members or a combination of cargo and crew. The vehicle is being built at the old shuttle processing facility at Kennedy Space Center, which is in the process of being renovated and equipped for the new needs of the CST-100.

This also is a job creator for the Space Coast; 250 people have been hired to support this project. The plan is to double that once the project is at full capacity. (Read More: Need a Good Jobs Story? Try Florida's Space Coast.)

The CST-100 is expected to be operational by the end of 2016.

Mulholland says it was a logical choice to build the CST-100 at Kennedy Space Center.

"The combination of the outstanding facilities and resources in the local community who have been trained over decades to work on space vehicles adds up to the perfect combination to support this business," Mulholland said.

Frank DiBello, CEO of Space Florida, says the resurgence of companies like Boeing to the area is a win-win.

"It's good for NASA because it helps lower costs." he said. "It's good for the commercial industry because they gain access to facilities that are unique, and the state gets jobs and the economic kick of them being here.

"These companies are the best of what the nation has to offer in trying to get safe, affordable and cost effective ways to get into the lower earth orbit." (Read More: End of Space Shuttle Program To Have Far Reaching Impact.)

For investors, the hope is that the space project will eventually profits into orbit as well.

—By CNBC's Brian Shactman and Jessica Golden
Follow Brian on Twitter @bshactman

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