Speaking at a press conference at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday, Bolden said “today we are one step closer to launching our astronauts from US soil on American spacecraft and ending the nation’s sole reliance on Russia by 2017.”
“Turning over low-Earth orbit transportation to private industry will also allow NASA to focus on an even more ambitious mission — sending humans to Mars," Bolden said.
The contracts are designed to complete the NASA certification for human space transportation systems capable of ferrying people into orbit. The US space agency plans to use these systems to take astronauts to the ISS and return them safely to Earth.
Since the retirement of NASA’s space shuttles in 2011, the only way for international teams to fly to space and the ISS is aboard the Russian Soyuz manned capsule. NASA reportedly pays Moscow $70 million for a single shuttle ride aboard the country's Soyuz rocket.
Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said Boeing will get $4.2 billion, while SpaceX will receive $2.6 billion. "There's a maximum of 6 missions under that contract value," she said.
In early April, the US space agency announced plans to halt cooperation with Moscow amid tensions over Ukraine. However, NASA said it would continue working together on the ISS and take part in joint meetings.