National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has selected Elon Musk’s Space exploration company, SpaceX, to land astronauts on the surface of the Moon.
NASA announced yesterday that SpaceX had won the contract for the Artemis lunar lander at a press conference, beating Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin (which teamed up with key aerospace players like Lockheed Martin) and defense contractor, Dynetics.
The contract, which is worth US$2.9 billion, is projected to land the first astronauts on the surface of the moon – since 1972 – and involves the prototype Starship spacecraft which is being tested at SpaceX’s south Texas facility.
“Today I’m very excited, and we are all very excited to announce that we have awarded SpaceX to continue the development of our integrated human landing system,” NASA’s Human Landing System program manager, Lisa Watson-Morgan said.
Nasa will also land the first person of colour, and the first woman on the moon as part of Artemis, which was announced during Donald Trump’s presidency.
The Artemis programme is projected, by the Trump administration, to land on the moon in 2024, but the Biden administration has said that the timeline is under review as it works on funding and spacecraft development.
NASA, initially, had the intention to pick multiple contractors for its Artemis programs – to promote competition and to ensure there are several options in case a provider can’t make good on its proposal.
The space agency chose SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics for the initial step of the contract last year, but it has decided to go all in on SpaceX.
Although, SpaceX has been encountering problems with the reusable spacecraft during testing (all of the prototypes have crashed and/or exploded thus far), NASA seems confident the company can get it right.
SpaceX is still planning to take Starship into orbit later this year. The agency also explained that the reusable nature of the Starship factored into its decision.
In 2002, Elon Musk founded SpaceX with the goal of eventually taking manned missions to Mars.
Last year, SpaceX was used by NASA for the first time to send astronauts into space, and deliver them to the International Space Station.