NASA has a plan to put humans back on the surface of the moon, and that plan officially includes SpaceX now.
The space agency announced Friday that it awarded the private rocket company a $2.89 billion contract to develop a “commercial human lander” with the goal of putting two people on the lunar surface.
“The agency’s powerful Space Launch System rocket will launch four astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft for their multi-day journey to lunar orbit,” reads the announcement in part. “There, two crew members will transfer to the SpaceX human landing system (HLS) for the final leg of their journey to the surface of the Moon.”
The lander will be a crucial part of the Artemis program, which aims to be the first crewed mission to the moon in the 21st century. Notably, NASA has promised to take one small step for equal representation in putting a woman and a person of color on the two-person landing crew.
SpaceX, for its part, is delighted by the news.
“NASA announced they have selected Starship to land the first astronauts on the lunar surface since the Apollo program,” reads a SpaceX press release championing the contract. “We are humbled to help NASA usher in a new era of human space exploration.”
According to NASA, the the Artemis program aims to get astronauts to the lunar surface in 2024, and is a key step toward additional space exploration.
“This incremental build-up of capabilities on and around the Moon is essential to establishing longterm exploration of Earth’s nearest neighbor and preparing for human exploration of Mars,” NASA explains.
Which, if his Twitter feed is any indication, is a goal that’s shared by SpaceX’s founder, Elon Musk.