The U.S. Moon Landing Won’t Involve NASA

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What? Is NASA going to the moon?

"We believe that there is a lot of fantastic science that we can do on the surface of the Moon", Bridenstine said.

Notably absent from the list are SpaceX and Boeing, though NASA recently ordered a safety review of the two companies, both of which are working to launch crewed missions.

NASA has picked nine US companies to bid for as-yet unannounced contracts related to a return to the moon.

"When we go to the moon, we want to be one customer of many customers in a robust marketplace between the Earth and the moon", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during an event at NASA Headquarters to announce the selections. The company was part of the Apollo moon missions that began in the '60s. According to a press conference Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, held this Wednesday, Russia is set to establish a Moon colony by 2040. These companies will design and launch scientific instruments and robotic payloads under Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) programme. The first missions could launch next year, as NASA only recently called for proposals for experiments to study the Moon.

The approach is unusual for NASA, said Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, who said NASA usually maintains control down to the "last rivet of a spacecraft". "The innovation of America's aerospace companies, wedded with our big goals in science and human exploration, are going to help us achieve incredible things on the Moon and feed forward to Mars".

In December, President Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1, giving NASA a new direction: "The directive I am signing today will refocus America's space program on human exploration and discovery". The awards are all indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts, and it's not unusual for the actual value of such awards to be far less than the maximum value. It marks an initial step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use.

Draper's lunar lander
Draper's lunar lander

These companies will be able to bid on delivering science and technology payloads for NASA, including payload integration and operations, launching from Earth and landing on the surface of the Moon.

Essentially, NASA's new Moon strategy will involve using private companies to build the stuff they send their experiments to the Moon on.

Zurbuchen said Thursday that a mobile lunar laboratory remains one of NASA's goals for Moon exploration, though such a mission would likely be developed through a more traditional process.

Back in August, NASA selected the companies that will be in charge with creating tipping point technologies for sending new spacecraft to the Moon and safely landing them there.

Anatoly Petrukovich of the Russian Academy of Sciences said: "A trip to Mars with the current state of space travel technology is too complicated".

Even Bridenstine said that while NASA wants the companies to succeed, the space agency is certain some of the efforts will fail. Insight arrived at Mars on Monday.

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