If all goes according to plan over the next five years, NASA will no longer have to rely on Russia to get Americans to the International Space Station.
The space agency announced on Friday that it has awarded three companies -- Sierra Nevada Corporation, SpaceX, and Boeing -- contracts totaling over $1.1 billion "to design and develop the next generation of U.S. human spaceflight capabilities."
"Today, we are announcing another critical step toward launching our astronauts from U.S. soil on space systems built by American companies," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, according to press materials from NASA. "We have selected three companies that will help keep us on track to end the outsourcing of human spaceflight and create high-paying jobs in Florida and elsewhere across the country."
NASA has not had a way to transport astronauts into space since the retirement of the space shuttle last year. The agency pays Russia -- at a cost of about $63 million per round trip, according to Space.com -- to get Americans to and from the International Space Station.
The Boeing Company was awarded $460 million, the largest chunk of the prize. The aerospace and defense company said it will use the money to further develop the CST-100, a spacecraft that will carry astronauts to the ISS.
NASA awarded Space Exploration Technologies, also known as SpaceX, $440 million, which the company will use to further develop its Dragon spacecraft for astronaut transport. Earlier this year, SpaceX became the first private company to successfully dock a vehicle with the International Space Station.
According to the company, which is hoping to launch its first manned flights by 2015, the Dragon capsule will carry seven astronauts.
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"This is a decisive milestone in human spaceflight and sets an exciting course for the next phase of American space exploration," Elon Musk, SpaceX's CEO and Chief Designer, said in a company statement. "SpaceX, along with our partners at NASA, will continue to push the boundaries of space technology to develop the safest, most advanced crew vehicle ever flown."
Sierra Nevada Corporation, a Nevada-based company, was awarded $212.5 million. The company said it will use the money to further develop its Dream Chaser Space System, a seven-person reusible space vehicle that launches atop an Atlas V rocket.
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