NASA signs a $ 2.9 billion contract with SpaceX to take astronauts to the moon

In Nasa’s bravest decision since the start of the Apollo project in the 1960s, on Friday (16) the American space agency selected the SpaceX spacecraft to enable the transportation of astronauts to the lunar surface in its Artemis program. This made the trip to the moon a bold “all or nothing”.

Two other proposals were submitted, one from Blue Origin (Jeff Bezos’ company, owner of Amazon, backed by heavyweights like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman) and one from Dynetics (in partnership with Sierra Nevada). SpaceX, as usual, was the cheapest and least conventional with a single-stage vehicle to land and take off from the moon.

Under the contract, the company will have to make two flights: a full test of the Starship system for unmanned student landing and the first manned demonstration flight. At the time the proposal was made, the first astronaut landing on the moon would be in 2024, but NASA is reviewing the program and the date is unlikely to be maintained – although the impossible with the SpaceX bet has only become unlikely.

This is because the company is relatively advanced in the development of the spaceship and is expected to conduct the first orbital test later this year. On the other hand, it’s an extremely innovative (and therefore risky) project. The fact that NASA selected him is a tremendous vote of confidence.

The $ 2.9 billion order is a bargain. In contrast to what NASA spent on its own high-performance rocket, the SLS, and its capsule for flights to the moon, Orion: the agency spends the same amount in just one year, and its development has been going on for more than a year. An Orion has even made a single flight, and the SLS has yet to make its first launch, which could happen this year.

NASA intends to maintain all of this architecture initially. When landing on the moon, the spaceship is put into orbit, refueled in space and then put into orbit. There he and the crew would be coupled to an Orion launched by an SLS that would descend on the spaceship to the surface of the moon and ascend with him to a new encounter with Orion that would bring them back to Earth.

Now nobody can forget that SpaceX planned the spaceship so that it leaves Earth already manned and can return in this state. This means that if the system becomes reliable, the expensive SLS-Orion duo loses its function. Nor does it hurt to remember that the spacecraft was designed by Elon Musk’s company to promote the future colonization of Mars – something SLS and Orion could never do.

In essence, NASA will fund the maturation of an inexpensive, reusable vehicle that can open the doors to the occupation of the solar system. Or you lose the moon without being able to land there in the next few years. Pure boldness.

This column is published in Folha Corrida on Mondays.

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