NASA has awarded contracts worth a combined $6.8 billion to Boeing and SpaceX to develop spacecraft designed to send astronauts into space. The news means the space agency will no longer have to rely on Russia's Soyuz capsules to transport Americans to and from the International Space Station.

Specifically, Boeing will receive $4.2 billion with SpaceX getting the remaining $2.6 billion in funding over the next three years. Boeing will continue to refine its CST-100 capsule while Elon Musk's startup will make improvements to its Dragon V2 capsule.

Musk said his company was deeply honored by the trust NASA has placed in them. He added that this is a vital step in a journey that will ultimately take us to the stars and make humanity a multi-planet species.

According to NASA boss Charles Bolden, the spacecraft will need to meet the same rigorous safety standards the agency had for their space shuttle program. Part of the certification process includes successfully sending an astronaut to the space station.

Once certified, the companies will be responsible for anywhere between two to six flights to the space station loaded with a crew of four NASA astronauts.

If you recall, NASA retired its fleet of space shuttles back in 2011. Last year, the agency signed a new deal to rent seats on Russia's Soyuz capsules at $70.7 million per seat. The $424 million deal is good through 2017 and guarantees six seats aboard the capsules.

Both companies have until 2017 to produce their respective spacecraft.