The US space program should save more than $12m (£7.95m) a seat flying astronauts to and from the International Space Station on commercial space taxis rather than aboard Russian capsules, the NASA programme manager said on Monday (January 26).

In September, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration awarded contracts worth up to a combined $6.8 billion to Boeing and privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, to fly crew to the station, a $100 billion research laboratory about 260 miles above Earth.

Since retiring the space shuttles in 2011, the United States has depended on Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, to ferry astronauts to the orbital outpost. The service costs more than $70 million per person.

NASA expects to pay an average of $58 million a seat when its astronauts begin flying on Boeing's CST-100 and SpaceX's Dragon capsules in 2017, Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew program, told reporters during a news conference in Houston and via conference call.

"We have been working overtime to return space launches to U.S. soil and end our sole reliance on Russians to get to the International Space Station (ISS)," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said.

Both SpaceX and Boeing plan two test flights to the station, the first without a crew and the second with a combination of company test pilots and NASA astronauts aboard.

SpaceX is targeting its unmanned test flight in 2016 and its piloted flight in early 2017, said company president Gwynne Shotwell.

Boeing's test flights are targeted for April and July 2017, vice president and programme manager John Elbon said.