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(HOUSTON) — NASA awarded contracts Tuesday to Boeing and Elon Musk’s SpaceX to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, signalling the agency’s return to manned space launches after the end of the space shuttle program.

“This is the fulfillment of the commitment President Obama made to return human space flight launches to U.S. soil and end our reliance on the Russians,” NASA administrator Charles Bolden said.

The winning designs will end U.S. dependence on the Russian Soyuz for transportation back and forth to the International Space Station.

The announcement came after an expensive and ferocious competition to determine which companies would be tasked with building the next era of spacecraft.

NASA’s space shuttle program rolled to a stop on July 21, 2011, when Commander Chris Ferguson noted the poignant end of the shuttle program. “Mission complete, Houston, after serving the world for over 30 years, the shuttle has earned its place in history, and it has come to a final stop,” he said.

The contracts are worth a potential $6.8 billion in the long run, according to Bolden, to launch U.S. astronauts into space by the end of 2017, the year NASA’s current contract with Russia expires.

The Commercial Crew Program was designed by NASA to replace the retired space shuttle, which was the workhorse of the space program for over 30 years.

Boeing has invested in the CST 100 capsule, which would launch on an Atlas V rocket — almost a turnkey proposition for NASA when you consider the company’s history in aerospace.

SpaceX has the advantage of already launching cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station and hopes to parlay that experience into a human version of its Dragon spacecraft.

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