Nasa has chosen billionaire Elon Musk’s private space company SpaceX to build the lunar lander that will put the first woman and person of colour on the moon.
The announcement came hours after SpaceX’s most international crew of astronauts yet arrived in Florida for a lift-off next week.
Elon Musk’s Starship – the futuristic, shiny steel rocketship that has made repeated launches from Texas – beat rivals including Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, for the contract worth £2.1 billion.
Steve Jurczyk, Nasa’s acting administrator, said: “We should accomplish the next landing as soon as possible. This is an incredible time to be involved in human exploration, for all humanity.”
He added that Mars is the ultimate goal, saying: “We won’t stop at the Moon.”
Musk is one of the world’s richest people thanks to his 22% stake in electric car maker Tesla, now the world’s most valuable vehicle manufacturer.
His aim is to put humans on Mars – but so far, SpaceX has mainly been used to launch satellites for his Starlink internet venture, and other satellites and space cargo.
Nasa declined to provide a target launch date for the moon-landing Artemis mission.
“We’ll do it when it’s safe,” said Kathy Lueders, who leads Nasa’s human space exploration office.
She indicated Nasa and SpaceX are aiming for later this decade.
The astronauts will fly to the moon on the Nasa-launched Orion capsule, then transfer to Starship in lunar orbit for the ride down to the surface and back.
Nasa has said at least one of the first moonwalkers since 1972 would be the first woman on the moon, while another goal of the programme is to send a person of colour to the lunar surface.
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