Washington, Apr 30 (efe-epa).- NASA on Thursday awarded three contracts – to Blue Origin, owned by the world’s richest man, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, to Elon Musk’s SpaceX and to Dynetics to build the first crewed spacecraft to be sent to the Moon since 1972.
The US space agency announced on its Web page the three firms that will compete to develop the lander for the next lunar mission, with Blue Origin being the farthest along in the project, for which it will receive $579 million, followed by Dynetics, whose contract is for $253 million, and SpaceX, which will receive $135 million.
Aeronautics giant Boeing, one of NASA’s regular contractors, also participated in the bidding although it was not selected on this occasion.
“With these contract awards, America is moving forward with the final step needed to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024, including the incredible moment when we will see the first woman set foot on the lunar surface,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.
“This is the first time since the Apollo era that Nasa has direct funding for a human landing system, and now we have companies on contract to do the work for the Artemis program,” he added.
The project is a big step forward for the Artemis program, whereby NASA hopes to establish a sustainable human presence – that is, a permanent base – on the lunar surface.
NASA is thus moving forward with its plan to once again send astronauts to the Moon using a pair of spacecraft. According to the current plan, the Orion spacecraft – which is in the testing phase – would fly to lunar orbit, where the astronauts would transfer to the module built by one of the firms selected in the bidding on Thursday, and they would descend to the lunar surface in that second vessel, a plan very similar to the one used for the Apollo Moon program in the 1960s and 1970s.
This mission format is a change from NASA’s original idea, which was to make an intermediate stop at a space station in lunar orbit, an orbiting platform called Gateway.
The Gateway plan, however, remains in effect for the long term, NASA said.
Despite all this, for NASA to send astronauts to the Moon before 2024, Congress would have to give the green light to the $35 billion budget the White House has presented for the project.