NASA is going back to the moon with the Space Launch System (SLS) under the Artemis program banner, but the agency still needs a landing system to take astronauts from the Orion capsule down to the lunar surface. After reviewing designs from Dynetics, SpaceX, and Blue Origin, NASA has decided to go with SpaceX and the Starship.
This special Starship configuration will be known as the human landing system (HLS), for which NASA is paying SpaceX $2.89 billion. As we’ve all seen in recent weeks, the Starship is far from ready to carry human passengers, but we’ve got a few years before it will need to be in a position to receive crew — the first Artemis landing won’t be until 2024 at the earliest. Despite the company’s recent testing setbacks, the Starship is much further along in development than either of the other proposed vessels.
When Artemis III launches from Earth, it will carry four astronauts on a multi-day journey to Lunar orbit. Once there, two of the crew will transfer from Orion to the Starship HLS. One of these individuals will become the first woman to set foot on the moon, and the Artemis program will also see the first person of color on the lunar surface.
NASA chose the Starship not only for its advanced development status but for its impressive technical specifications. NASA has been working with SpaceX during the HLS evaluation period to ensure the Starship has all the necessary capabilities. The spacecraft has ample room for the crew, and SpaceX’s propulsive landing technology is far and away the best in the world, a few failed tests notwithstanding. This spacecraft will be able to move to multiple locations around the moon, allowing astronauts to explore various locations over the course of a week. Following the lunar excursion, the Starship will deliver the crew back to Orion for their return to Earth.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wasted no time celebrating the decision on Twitter. “NASA Rules!!” he tweeted, adding that SpaceX is honored to be part of the Artemis program. This award puts the Starship front and center as humanity heads back to the moon, but Musk is still laser-focused on Mars as the future of humanity. After celebrating the NASA deal, he reminded everyone that any plants and animals that go extinct on Earth in the future could continue living on Mars.
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