NASA has awarded SpaceX with a $2.89 billion contract to develop a commercial human lander that will safely carry the next two American astronauts to the moon.
What Happened: NASA is returning to lunar exploration with the Artemis program, which plans to send four astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft to lunar orbit. Once the spacecraft is in its orbit, two crew members will transfer to the SpaceX human landing system for the final leg of their journey, which will involve landing on the surface of the Moon and remaining for approximately a week’s worth of exploration before boarding their lander for a return to Orion and a journey back to Earth.
NASA added that at least one of those astronauts will be the first woman to land on the moon, and another goal is to include the person of color to make the trip to the lunar surface.
"With this award, NASA and our partners will complete the first crewed demonstration mission to the surface of the Moon in the 21st century as the agency takes a step forward for women’s equality and long-term deep space exploration,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA's associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate. “This critical step puts humanity on a path to sustainable lunar exploration and keeps our eyes on missions farther into the solar system, including Mars.”
Why It Matters: NASA ended its lunar explorations with the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. The mission was notable for its use of the battery-powered Lunar Roving Vehicle to explore the moon’s surface.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who also serves as the CEO of Tesla Inc. TSLA and The Boring Company, responded jubilantly to the news on Twitter TWTR, tweeting out: “NASA Rules!! We are honored to be part of the @NASAArtemis team.”
NASA did not release a timeline on when it expected the Artemis program to take astronauts back to the moon.
(Illustration of SpaceX Starship human lander courtesy of SpaceX.)
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