NASA has selected SpaceX to bring the first American astronauts to the moon since 1972, the American space agency announced on Friday. This is a huge win for Elon Musk’s company.
The $ 2.9 billion contract includes the prototype Starship spacecraft being tested at SpaceX facilities in southern Texas.
“I’m very excited today, and we are all delighted to announce that we have chosen SpaceX to continue the development of our integrated human landing system,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, manager of that program at NASA.
SpaceX beats Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and defense company Dynetics and becomes the only vendor of the system. This is a surprising milestone in NASA practice, where multiple companies are usually selected to prevent each other in the event of a failure.
Industry analysts said the decision underscores that the company, founded by Musk in 2002 with the goal of colonizing Mars, is NASA’s most trusted partner in the private sector.
Last year, SpaceX became the first private company to successfully dispatch a crew to the International Space Station, restoring North America’s ability to accomplish the feat for the first time since the end of the space shuttle program.
For its moon landing proposal, SpaceX presented its reusable spaceship spaceship, which is designed to transport large crews and cargo for space travel into space and perform a vertical landing on both earth and other celestial bodies.
Prototypes of the spacecraft are being tested at the company’s facilities, although all four versions that have tried test flights to date have exploded.
As part of the Artemis program for the return of humans to the moon, NASA wants to use its space launch system to transport four astronauts aboard an Orion crew capsule, which will then dock at a lunar space station called Gateway.
The spaceship is waiting to receive two crew members for the final leg of the journey to the lunar surface.
The idea is that the gateway is a stopover, but for the first mission, Orion could connect directly to the spaceship, Watson-Morgan explained.
The astronauts then spent a week on the moon before boarding the SpaceX spacecraft to return to lunar orbit and then board Orion back to Earth.
On the flip side, Musk’s company plans to combine the Starship spacecraft with its own super-heavy rocket to create a combined spacecraft that is 120 meters tall and the most powerful launcher model ever implemented.
Humanity last set foot on the moon in 1972 during the Apollo program. NASA plans to return and build a sustainable presence with a lunar space station to test new technologies that will pave the way for a manned mission to Mars.
In 2019, then-Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, urged NASA to put the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024, but that timeframe is likely to relax under Joe Biden.
Another change from the current government is the stated goal of bringing the first non-white person to the moon under the Artemis program.