NASA on Thursday awarded almost $1 billion in contracts to
three space companies, including those owned by Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, to
develop lunar landers as the United States, seeks to return human beings to the
Moon.

The human landing system contracts were given to Musk’s
SpaceX, Bezos’ Blue Origin and Dynetics, who receive $967 million.

The three will compete against each other over the contract
period, ending February 2021, when NASA will decide which of them will have an
opportunity to perform demonstration missions.

“America is moving forward with the final step needed
to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024, including the incredible moment when we
will see the first woman set foot on the lunar surface,” said NASA
Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

“This is the first time since the Apollo era that NASA
has direct funding for a human landing system, and now we have companies on
contract to do the work for the Artemis program.”

The human landing system is one of the core elements of the
Artemis mission, along with the Space Launch System rock, the Orion crew
capsule headed by Lockheed Martin, and the Gateway, a small space station that
will orbit the Moon.

The announcement comes as the world grapples with the
coronavirus pandemic, which has killed almost 230 000 people since it first
emerged in China late last year, and has ground the global economy to a halt.

Bridenstine said it was more important than ever for the
mission to go forward.

“I want to say that it’s important that this agency do
this now, because our country, and in fact the whole world has been shaken by
this coronavirus pandemic,” said Bridenstine.

“And yet, we need to give people hope. We need to give
them something that they can look up to, dream about, something that will
inspire not just the nation but the entire world.”

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