NASA has chosen SpaceX to land the first astronauts on the Moon’s surface since 1972, the agency said on Friday, in a huge victory for Elon Musk’s company.
The $ 2.9 billion contract covers the Starship spaceship, which is being tested at the SpaceX South Texas facility.
“Today I am very excited, and we are all very pleased to announce that we have assigned SpaceX to continue the development of our integrated human landing system,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, NASA’s Human Landing System Program Director.
SpaceX knocked out Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics for being the sole provider for the system, a surprising break from the past when NASA has selected several companies if one fails.
Industry analysts said the decision underscores the company, which was founded by Musk in 2002 with the goal of colonizing Mars, as NASA’s most trusted partner in the private sector.
Last year, SpaceX became the first private company to successfully send a crew to the International Space Station and restore US capacity to perform for the first time since the Shuttle program ended.
For its lunar landing bid, SpaceX presented its reusable spaceship Starship, which is designed to carry large crews and cargo for deep space travel and land upright on both Earth and other celestial bodies.
Prototypes of the ship are currently being put through its paces at the company’s South Texas facility, although all four versions that have so far attempted test flights have exploded.
Under the Artemis program to return humans to the moon, NASA wants to use the rocket to launch the space system to launch four astronauts aboard an Orion crew capsule, which will then dock with a lunar station called the Gateway.
Starship is waiting to receive two crew members for the last part of the journey to the Moon’s surface.
The idea is that Gateway will be an intermediary, but for the first assignment, Orion can dock directly with Starship, said Watson-Morgan.
The astronauts then spent a week on the moon before boarding the Starship to return to the lunar orbit and then taking Orion back to Earth.
Plan for the moon station
Separately, SpaceX plans to combine the spaceship Starship with its own Super Heavy rocket, to make a combined ship that will rise 394 feet (120 meters) and be the most powerful firearm ever used.
Mankind last rose to the moon in 1972 during the Apollo program.
NASA wants to go back and create a sustainable presence, complete with a space station for the moon, to test new technology that will pave the way for a manned mission to Mars.
In 2019, then-Vice President Mike Pence challenged NASA to land the first woman and next man on the moon in 2024, but it is likely that the timeline will be relaxed under President Joe Biden.
Another change under the current administration is its stated goal of placing the first person in color on the moon during the Artemis program.