NASA said SpaceX's Starship includes a spacious cabin and two airlocks for astronaut moon walks and that its architecture is intended to evolve to a fully reusable launch and landing system designed for travel to the Moon, Mars and other destinations in space
NASA awarded billionaire Elon Musk's space company SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to build a spacecraft for landing astronauts on the moon as early as 2024, the agency said on Friday. SpaceX beat rivals Amazon founder Jeff Bezos-controlled Blue Origin and another defence company Dynetics Inc to win the contract.
"NASA Rules!!" Musk wrote on Twitter after the announcement.
Musk's SpaceX bid alone while Blue Origin partnered with Lockheed Martin Corp, Northrop Grumman Corp and Draper. Dynetics is a subsidiary of Leidos Holdings.
This is an attempt by humankind to return to the moon for the first time since the US Apollo mission of 1972.
NASA said the lander will carry two American astronauts to the lunar surface.
"We should accomplish the next landing as soon as possible," Steve Jurczyk, NASA's acting administrator, said during the video conference announcement.
"If they hit their milestones, we have a shot at 2024," Jurczyk added.
NASA said SpaceX's Starship includes a spacious cabin and two airlocks for astronaut moon walks and that its architecture is intended to evolve to a fully reusable launch and landing system designed for travel to the Moon, Mars and other destinations in space.
SpaceX also responded on Twitter, writing, "We are humbled to help @NASAArtemis usher in a new era of human space exploration."
Unlike the Apollo landings from 1969 to 1972 - the only human visits to the moon's surface - NASA is gearing up for a longer-term lunar presence that it envisions as a stepping stone to an even more ambitious plan to send astronauts to Mars. NASA is leaning heavily on private companies built around shared visions for space exploration.
SpaceX will be required to make a test flight of the lander to the moon before humans make the journey, NASA official Lisa Watson-Morgan told reporters.
On Thursday, NASA said it would send its crew to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX rocket on April 22.
The agency aims to create regular service to the moon and said it will have a separate competition for that contract.
"We have to be able to provide for recurring lunar services," said Mark Kirasich, deputy associate administrator for NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems division.
This is another feather in Musk’s cap as he has turned electric car maker Tesla Inc. into the world's most-valuable automaker, with a market capitalization of $702 billion.
Musk has become a leader in technology, with his companies undertaking space flight, electric cars, neural implants and subterranean tunnel boring ventures.