Nasa has picked Elon Musk’s firm SpaceX to build a lander that will return humans to the Moon this decade.
This ship will take the next man and the first woman down to the lunar surface following the space agency’s Artemis programme.
Another aim of the programme will be to land the first person of colour on the Moon.
The lander is based on SpaceX’s Starship craft, which is being experimented at a site in southern Texas.
SpaceX was fighting against a common bid from traditional aerospace giants and Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder, as well as Alabama-based Dynetics. The entire value of the contract granted to Musk’s company is $2.89bn.
“With this award, Nasa and our associates will complete the first crewed demonstration mission to the surface of the Moon in the 21st century as the agency takes a step ahead for women’s equality and long-term, extensive space travel,” said Kathy Lueders, the organisation’s head of human exploration.
“This critical step puts humanity on the way to sustainable lunar travel and keeps our eyes on missions distant into the Solar System, including Mars.”
Elon Musk has been improving the Starship design for years. Following the rocketships from the golden age of science fiction, it is critical to the entrepreneur’s long-term plans for living humans on Mars.
For now, though, it will help as the lander that carries astronauts from lunar orbit to the surface.
With a large cabin and two airlocks, enabling astronauts to exit the craft for moonwalks, it’s a far cry from the restricted, spindly lunar module (LM) that carried 12 men to the surface beneath the US Apollo programme from 1969 to 1972.
The new vehicle will be called the Human Landing System (HLS).
In modern times, Nasa has preferred more than one company when obtaining space transport services, giving it choices if one of them fails to fulfil.