The next humans to visit the surface of the moon will be catching a ride there courtesy of not only NASA, but also Elon Musk and SpaceX.
The space agency announced Friday that it has selected the high-profile rocket and satellite builder to provide the human landing system for its Artemis program, which aims to send the first astronauts to the moon since the end of the Apollo program, including the first woman to step on the lunar surface, later this decade.
SpaceX already has a vehicle in mind and under development for the job. Starship is the next generation spacecraft that has already made some dramatic test flights from the company’s Texas Gulf Coast development facility. So far each high-altitude flight has been followed by an explosive landing phase, but Musk is not deterred.
Starship is designed to transport astronauts to the moon and many more humans to other worlds like Mars, where Musk hopes humanity will expand to become a “multiplanetary species.”
SpaceX won the massive NASA contract by bidding $2.9 billion for the job, beating out Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Alabama-based military and space contractor Dynetics.
In a press conference following the announcement, NASA’s human landing system head Lisa Watkins-Morgan also revealed that SpaceX will need to perform an uncrewed test landing on the moon before taking astronauts there. This is in line with the approach taken with the company’s Crew Dragon that took astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time last year.
NASA had hoped to make awards to two companies in order to make the process competitive, but only had the funding for one, making SpaceX’s low bid attractive.
SpaceX is also further along in the development process than any other company and has long intended to send Starship to the moon and Mars, with or without NASA’s support.
Follow CNET’s 2021 Space Calendar to stay up to date with all the latest space news this year. You can even add it to your own Google Calendar.