Astronauts have not returned to the moon in 50 years, NASA’s Artemis program aims to launch the first woman and next man to the moon by 2024. A new space race began as the agency selected three aerospace companies – SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics – to compete for an award to develop a Human Landing System (HLS) to return astronauts to the lunar surface. Out of the three companies, NASA announced today, April 16, that it awarded SpaceX a $2.89 Billion contract to develop a variant of Starship to land astronauts on the moon. “…The importance of landing astronauts back on the moon is that we are going back in a way that is totally different, we’ve had almost 60 years of experience and we are taking every single ounce of experience we have,” NASA Associate Administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate Kathy Lueders said. "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,” Lueders stated. “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.”
.@NASA has selected @SpaceX to continue the development of its Human Landing System for the #Artemis program.— NASA’s Artemis Program (@NASAArtemis) April 16, 2021
The Human Landing System will take astronauts from lunar orbit to the lunar surface and back. Read the full announcement: https://t.co/tkojemwUUr pic.twitter.com/bvOX6DQsXA
“NASA has chosen SpaceX to return us to the moon! I am so excited to partner with SpaceX in this fantastic endeavor… Congratulations to the SpaceX team!” Program Manager of NASA’s Human Landing System Lisa Watson-Morgan announced. “This is an exciting time for NASA and especially the Artemis team. 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,” she stated in a press release.
“The SpaceX human lander design is a single-stage solution with Starship, their fully reusable launch and landing system designed for travel to the Moon, Mars and beyond” she said in a video announcement. “[…] The proposal included an in-space propellant transfer demonstration and uncrewed test landing.” SpaceX says the lunar-optimized Starship will be capable of flying “many times between the surface of the Moon and lunar orbit without flaps or heat shielding required for Earth return.” The company released a new render of the spacecraft, pictured below. Starship will include a large cabin and two airlocks. The vehicle will not return to Earth, instead, Starship will be used to create a lunar base. During the first Artemis mission the "Space Launch System rocket will launch four astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft for their multi-day journey to lunar orbit. There, two crew members will transfer to the SpaceX human landing system (HLS) for the final leg of their journey to the surface of the Moon," the agency described, "After approximately a week exploring the surface, they will board the lander for their short trip back to orbit where they will return to Orion and their colleagues before heading back to Earth."
NASA has selected Starship to land the first astronauts on the lunar surface since the Apollo program! We are humbled to help @NASAArtemis usher in a new era of human space exploration → https://t.co/Qcuop33Ryz pic.twitter.com/GN9Tcfqlfp— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 16, 2021
Starship is currently in its development phase at the SpaceX South Texas Launch Facility located at Boca Chica Beach, along the Gulf of Mexico. SpaceX has launched multiple stainless-steel Starship prototypes to altitudes up to 10-kilometers and demonstrated its engineering talent as the 50-meter-tall vehicle performed a flight powered by a trio of methane fueled Raptor engines. During today’s announcement Lueders and Watson-Morgan said the agency will continue to monitor the Starship’s development. “We know that this first step to the moon will then lead us to go to Mars, and we know the Human Landing System is one of the first steps to get us there,” Lueders said.
Featured Image Source: SpaceX
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.