It seems increasingly clear that Elon Musk’s efforts to take his company SpaceX at the forefront of space programs they are working. And it is that after the success of last June, when they made history by transporting astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time, being the first commercial company to receive NASA space flight certification, their collaboration plans with the space agency Americans have continued to grow, in what seems like a fairly trusting relationship.
The latest example of this is found in The Washington Post, and that is that SpaceX has been awarded a NASA contract to take astronauts to the Moon. In addition, the victory must have been especially satisfying for Elon Musk, since one of the two companies he was competing against in this tender was Blue Origin, the space startup founded by Jeff Bezos. The rivalry between the two is publicly known, as well as the aspirations of Blue Origin to participate in the return of man to the Moon.
And this has been a point that has surprised many. NASA was expected to rule out only one of the three companies that have entered the contest., keeping both SpaceX and Blue Origin within the project, in order to have a security backup, in case the project of one of them fails. Thus, the entire lunar lander responsibility for the Artemis program rests with SpaceX, which in return is awarded a $ 2.9 billion contract.
To this end, SpaceX’s plans are to make its large-capacity Starship (yes, the one that has starred in some explosive tests in recent months) capable not only of taking Earth’s crew to lunar orbit, it can also land on the surface of our satellite. This approach is quite complex, and in fact it was discarded in the early days of the space race, in the 1960s, but with the advances of the last decades it now seems more possible.
In this way, a critical operation that we live in the Apollo missions is avoided: the separation and, above all, the reencounter of the lander with the module that remains orbiting the Moon, awaiting the return of the astronauts. Michael Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin’s companion on Apollo XI, would surely have loved this mission format, as it would have allowed him to step on the lunar surface, instead of having to remain in orbit waiting for his companions.
With the Artemis program, NASA aims to take astronauts to the moon, specifically to the lunar region of the south pole by the year 2024, as the first phase for a long-term plan that could end the constant presence of human beings on the Moon. Something that not many remember, but that was actually already part of NASA’s plans for the seventies, but that after the decline in interest on the part of society, they ended up being canceled.
Now, with NASA, SpaceX, Blue Origin, Boeing and many other companies looking to Mars, the ability to establishing a lunar colony would be one of the great trials by fire. There are still many steps to take before considering a long-term stay on Mars, so plans to take humans to the red planet in the next decade seem complicated. However, if Artemis turns out to be a success, that will put us many steps ahead.