The next humans to visit the moon’s surface will visit it thanks not only to NASA, but also Elon Musk and SpaceX.
The space agency said on Friday it had selected the top rocket and satellite builder to provide the human landing system for its Artemis program, which aims to send the first astronauts to the moon since the program ended. Apollo, including the first woman to step on the lunar surface, later that decade.
SpaceX already has a vehicle in mind and in development for the role. Starship is the next-generation spacecraft that has already performed spectacular test flights from the company’s development facility on the Texas Gulf Coast. So far, every high-altitude flight has been followed by an explosive landing phase, but Musk is not deterred.
Starship is designed to transport astronauts to the moon and many more humans to other worlds like Mars, where Musk hopes humanity will develop into a “multiplanetary species.”
SpaceX won the massive NASA contract by submitting $ 2.9 billion for the job, beating Dynetics, a Jeff Bezos-based military and space contractor based in Alabama.
According to a statement from NASA, Artemis astronauts will not ride Starship from Earth to the lunar surface, at least not to begin with. Instead, a quartet of astronauts will launch aboard NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft on a multi-day journey into lunar orbit. NASA plans to build a small space station called the Lunar Gateway orbiting the moon that will serve as an outpost for travel to the moon itself.
In lunar orbit, the astronauts will be transferred to a spacecraft waiting for the trip to the surface, a period of exploration followed by a return to lunar orbit and then back home on Orion.
At a press conference after the announcement, NASA Human Landing System chief Lisa Watkins-Morgan also revealed that SpaceX will need to perform an unmanned test landing on the moon before taking any aircraft there. astronauts. This is in line with the approach taken with the company’s Crew Dragon that took astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time last year.
NASA had hoped to award prizes to two companies in order to make the process competitive, but the agency only had funding for one, which made SpaceX’s low bid attractive.
SpaceX is also more advanced in the development process than any other company, and has long intended to send Starship to the Moon and Mars, with or without NASA support.
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