Amidst all the chaos of 2020, NASA asked three companies to put forward plans for a Human Landing System program, an installation to assist moon landings. After a variety of heroic engineering from all three, the “Starship” design by SpaceX was selected. NASA made the announcement on April 16, 2021.
“NASA has selected Starship to land the first astronauts on the lunar surface since the Apollo program!” tweeted SpaceX. “We are humbled to help @NASAArtemis usher in a new era of human space exploration.”
This will be the first time that NASA has used a human lander made by a private company, another step in NASA’s recent trend. The intention is to put Americans back on the moon in 2024, and proceed from there to Mars. Eighteen astronauts were selected last year to begin training. Four will be selected, and two will reach the moon. It is a part of the mission’s objective that at least one woman and one person of color reach the moon.
“With this award, NASA and our partners will complete the fist 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,” Lueders said in another statement.
SpaceX, owned by billionaire Elon Musk, has already begun using its Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, supplementing and eventually replacing the Russian craft Soyuz.
“We are honored to be a part of the @NASAArtemis team,” tweeted Musk in response to the news. “NASA Rules!!”
The other two space company contenders were Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Dynetics, a defense contractor from Alabama. The decision was made based on projected costs and cargo capacity.