NASA astronauts will soon get their own space taxi to shuttle between the International Space Station and the Earth, the space agency said on Monday.

The agency will spend up to $1.61 billion for buying a complete range of spacecrafts, launchers, mission operations and ground support which will run from July 2012 to April 2014.

This is a significant step forward in America's amazing story of space exploration, said NASA administrator Charles Bolden. It's further evidence we are committed to fully implementing our plan - as laid out in the Authorization Act - to outsource our space station transportation so NASA can focus its energy and resources on deep space exploration.

According to NASA's draft proposal, the Integrated Design Contract (IDC) shall be awarded to multiple private companies that can provide designs for all the operations related to an expedition and recovery.

This IDC effort will bring us through the critical design phase to fully incorporate our human spaceflight safety requirements and NASA's International Space Station mission needs, said NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Ed Mango. We look forward to strong U.S. industry response.

President Barack Obama has requested $850 million for NASA's commercial crew development initiative, or CCDev, for the year beginning October 1. Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee offered $500 million.

This year NASA announced the retirement of three space shuttles, as a result of which the U.S. became dependent on Russia to fly its astronauts from the space station. Russia charges more than $50 million a person, including training and support services.

However, the failure of the Russian cargo space ship last month pointed out the problem in relying on only one option of transportation.

Referring to the same event, Phil McAlister, NASA's commercial spaceflight development director said, Right now, we have a single-string failure for a $100-billion national lab. Every year we do not have a commercial crew capability, the station is at risk.

Along with the space taxi, NASA also plans to launch the optional milestones for the Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2) initiative very soon.