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Musk and Bezos in new space race to build moon landers for Nasa mission

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Space is the place: This illustration made available by Nasa depicts Artemis astronauts on the Moon. Photo: NASA/AP

Space is the place: This illustration made available by Nasa depicts Artemis astronauts on the Moon. Photo: NASA/AP

Space is the place: This illustration made available by Nasa depicts Artemis astronauts on the Moon. Photo: NASA/AP

Nasa has chosen Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin to develop technology to take humans to the Moon.

The US government space agency said the two companies, as well as aerospace veteran Dynetics, would each develop their own systems in parallel, in preparation for humanity's first return to the moon since 1972.

Challenged by US President Donald Trump to complete a lunar mission by 2024, the agency picked the three companies out of a wider field which included beleaguered rival Boeing.

The combined $967m (€880m) contracts will see each of the three companies develop their own moon landers, with a full payout dependent on the companies hitting various milestones over a 10-month period.

"This is the last piece that we need in order to get to the moon" by 2024, said Nasa administrator Jim Brindestine.

Over the next 10 months, each company will refine its concept and Nasa will decide which lander to test first.

Mr Bridenstine said Nasa will go with the company that has the highest probability of success by 2024.

Elon Musk's SpaceX put forward the Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy launcher, its largest rocket which is designed to take humans to Mars or farther.

Mr Bezos's company will develop its Integrated Lander Vehicle and New Glenn rocket, also its largest.

The two other companies, Boeing and Vivace, put in bids but were eliminated early on, leaving the three awarded contracts. Blue Origin got more than half the total amount - $579m - more than four times more than SpaceX's $135m. Dynetics was in between, with $253m.

SpaceX's proposed Starship lander is so tall that astronauts will use an elevator to get to and from the lunar surface. Blue Origin's version comes with a big ladder, according to artistic renderings.

The Dynetics lander is so low to the ground that only a few steps are needed, like a front porch, a feature that Nasa gave high marks for safety and efficiency.

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SpaceX is using its own Starship spacecraft - still under development in Texas - and its own rockets. Blue Origin and Dynetics are partnering with numerous subcontractors, including commercial launch companies.

Going commercial, Mr Bridenstine said, will drive down costs while increasing access. It builds off of Nasa's commercial cargo and crew programmes for the International Space Station. Just last November, SpaceX and Blue Origin were among the companies that won contracts to make cargo deliveries to the moon. SpaceX is due to launch its first crewed flight next month, when it takes two astronauts to the International Space Station.

Nasa wants the new Artemis moon-landing programme to be sustainable, unlike Apollo, with multiple missions and multiple locations on the lunar surface. While only one company will carry the first woman and next man to the lunar surface, all three will participate over the long haul, officials noted.

By learning how to live and work on the moon, Nasa will be better equipped to eventually send astronauts to Mars, Mr Bridenstine said.


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