Three private businesses are shooting for the Moon . . . literally. The companies hope to develop, build, and launch lunar landers. Their goal is returning astronauts to the Moon—and then eventually sending them on to Mars.
U.S. astronauts haven’t set foot on the Moon since 1972. The nation’s past Moon explorations were all NASA projects. NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is an agency of the United States government. At the dawn of the aeronautics age, funding for NASA space research and programs reached as much as 4.4% of the U.S. annual budget. That percentage has dropped over the last 50 years to less than one-half of 1% of the national budget. So with big plans on the horizon, NASA last fall asked American companies to submit blueprints for human lunar landing systems. The landers would support NASA’s new Artemis program. Artemis seeks to send the first woman and the next man to the surface of the Moon by 2024.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine believes that going commercial encourages positive competition, creativity, and accountability. Altogether, that should drive down costs while increasing access to space travel.
The space agency awarded multiple grants for lander development. Currently, three companies are competing to design the best option: SpaceX, led by Elon Musk; Blue Origin, founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos; and Dynetics, a high-tech engineering and research company.
NASA is putting its Moon money to work. NASA granted Blue Origin $579 million for its concept. That was more than four times more than SpaceX’s $135 million. Dynetics received $253 million.
For the next eight months, the companies will refine their concepts. Then NASA will select a winner. The benefit of a successful formula is no secret: The chosen company will be the one most likely to succeed by 2024.
NASA wants the new Artemis Moon-landing program components to be reusable. It hopes to conduct multiple missions and maintain multiple locations on the lunar surface.
NASA will choose only one company to work with Artemis. But the grants are evidence that NASA is investing in all three for the years to come.
Right now, each company seems committed to the space program. SpaceX’s Musk embraced this “potential for an incredibly exciting future in space with a base on the Moon.”
Dynetics’ vice president of space systems, Kim Doering, says her team is excited not only about 2024 but also about the long-term lunar economy.
Blue Origin chief executive Bob Smith calls the opportunity to develop products for the Moon historic. He says, “Going to the Moon is the reason why we got into this business.”
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the Moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him? — Psalm 8:3-4