NASA has chosen SpaceX and the Boeing Corporation to build spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, the space agency announced in a press conference held today at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The agency will award a combined $6.8 billion to the firms for the first phase of the program.
"This is the fulfillment of the commitment President Obama made to end our reliance on the Russians," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said during the conference.
In a blog post published in conjunction with the announcement, he added, "NASA has set the stage for what promises to be the most ambitious and exciting chapter in the history of human space flight."
The so-called space taxis are expected to provide an alternative to the Russia's Soyuz capsules, which since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011 have been the only ride for astronauts bound to and from the ISS.
Chicago-based Boeing, a long-term partner of NASA, has designed a seven-passenger spacecraft called the CST-100.
SpaceX, headquartered in Hawthorne, Calif., has been ferrying cargo but no crew members to the ISS since 2012. The firm is expected to produce a seven-passenger version of its Dragon capsule.
SpaceX is led by CEO Elon Musk, who also owns electric car company Tesla Motors.
The agency hopes to send the first crews up in 2017, the Associated Press reported.