NASA revealed that private companies will compete to design the lander for the agency’s next moon landing, during an announcement Thursday.
NASA will accept design proposals from nine of 30 companies that expressed interest, according to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine who keynoted the live-streamed announcement. NASA will pay $2.6 billion to a company of its choice for a craft that will safely land and shelter its next moonwalking astronauts and lift them back to their rocket, CNBC reported.
“Today’s announcement marks tangible progress in America’s return to the Moon’s surface to stay,” Bridenstine said in a statement. “The innovation of America’s aerospace companies, wedded with our big goals in science and human exploration, are going to help us achieve amazing things on the Moon and feed forward to Mars.”
Draper, Lockheed Martin, Astrobotic, Firefly Aerospace, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express, Intuitive Machines, Deep Space Systems and Orbit Beyond satisfied NASA’s stipulations, a Thursday NASA press release unveiled. Notably, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX did not make the cut. (RELATED: NASA Successfully Lands Deep-Drilling InSight Lander On Mars)
The U.S. has not put boots on the surface of the moon since 1972 when the Apollo project sent its last mission. NASA landed astronauts on the moon successfully six times between 1969 and 1972, testing the body’s composition and exploring its geography. The U.S. plans on resuming exploration of the moon “sooner than you think,” Bridenstine teased in a Tuesday tweet.
BREAKING: We are announcing new Moon partnerships with American companies at 2pm ET this Thursday. The U.S. is returning to the surface of the Moon, and we’re doing it sooner than you think! https://t.co/1vC2NC6OzI
— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) November 27, 2018
Bridenstine is convinced that outsourcing a pivotal part of its next mission is the first step to making moon landings profitable for American companies. “When we go to the moon, we want to be one customer of many customers in a robust marketplace between the Earth and the moon,” Bridenstine said.
Bridenstine also told reporters the privately constructed lander would itself be an experiment aiming to provide information for a manned landing on the surface of Mars in the future.
NASA’s lunar return comes amid news of plans from Russia and China to send their own missions to the moon.
The Chinese mission, though unmanned, will attempt to put a lander on the far side of the moon, something never achieved before, to collect data from the largely unknown face of Earth’s solitary natural satellite, according to Science Magazine.
The head of Russia’s state-run astronomics company, Roscosmos, told reporters the company’s next mission would “verify” that the U.S. landed human beings on the moon in the first place, according to The Associated Press.
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