NASA today announced the next US lunar mission will use SpaceX's HLS Starship to put American astronauts on the Moon's surface.
Elon Musk's rocketry biz thus scoops a $2.89bn contract to put the first woman and the 13th man on the Moon as part of the American space agency's Artemis program. NASA will use its own much-delayed SLS booster to launch four astronauts into orbit and make the trans-lunar injection burn – pointing them Moon-ward, basically – and then two of the 'nauts will transfer to SpaceX hardware to touch down.
“This is an exciting time for NASA and especially the Artemis team,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, program manager for HLS at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
“During the Apollo program, we proved that it is possible to do the seemingly impossible: land humans on the Moon. By taking a collaborative approach in working with industry while leveraging NASA’s proven technical expertise and capabilities, we will return American astronauts to the Moon’s surface once again, this time to explore new areas for longer periods of time.”
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Last May, NASA announced a three-way contest to provide landing hardware for the Moon, between SpaceX, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin startup, and US-based Dynetics. By choosing a single partner, NASA can get the job done with lower costs – provided it works.
SpaceX has been working hard on its Starship reusable rocket, and has mastered the art of getting it into the air and almost landing it in one piece. The Moon offers Starship some advantages, primarily the minuscule gravity compared to Earth. The craft's reusability aspect is particularly attractive to NASA. Elon's Musketeers are planning to use Starship modules as refill stations in orbit and beyond.
"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.” ®