In an effort to explore uncharted regions of the Moon whilst landing the most diverse group of astronauts in history onto the lunar surface, NASA has chosen SpaceX to build the first commercial human lander as part of the Artemis mission.
The Artemis mission is NASA’s vision to return to the Moon, this time crewed, to further our understanding of the landscape and take another large step to the eventual goal of a permanent human presence there. It also aims to place the first woman and first person of color onto the Moon.
To do so, an advanced Lunar lander will be required, and NASA looked towards commercial options. SpaceX has had a slew of impressive innovations over the last few years, with one of the foremost being the HLS (Human Landing System) Starship. The Starship is a fully-reusable heavy-lift vehicle that lands autonomously, which has been demonstrated once before (although it subsequently burst into flames from the impact).
NASA has now awarded the company a lofty $2.89 billion to develop a system that will take astronauts to the Moon.
"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,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA's associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate, in a statement.
“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.”
The four astronauts destined for the Moon will board the Orion spacecraft, a capsule that will act as the main control craft, and be launched into the skies. Once in lunar orbit, two members of the crew will board SpaceX’s HLS and touch down, making not just one small step for man, but a giant step for all humanity. After seeing as much as the Moon has to offer for around 1 week, the astronauts will return to Orion and come home.
In collaboration with SpaceX, NASA is now looking to 2024 to put more humans on the Moon, with the goal of "sustainable Lunar exploration". As with all space missions, this is certainly prone to change, but it looks extremely possible with the rate at which innovation is moving.
While SpaceX and NASA get busy building the Artemis HLS system, there are still exciting launches to watch in the meantime. April 22 will see SpaceX launch its second crewed mission to the International Space Station, using the Falcon 9 rocket that will self-land on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, named after the 2015 Falcon 9 explosion that left a droneship destroyed.