Nasa turns to private sector for next moon mission

Elon Musk

Elon Musk

'I think that it is possible we can have a presence on the moon with humans within a decade, ' said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "We are going. We are NASA", the agency posted to Twitter.

In a blog and a subsequent news conference, NASA announced that it would be allowing nine different companies to bid on "NASA delivery services to the lunar surface".

NASA expects the selected contractors to begin flying to the moon as early as next year.

Those companies are eligible for competing for NASA's contracts valued at $2.6 billion, according to the US-based space agency.

"Potentially, this spacecraft could be the first thing to show that we can produce water fuel from the moon and potentially turn the moon into a refueling station for spacecraft to go deeper and deeper into space", said John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic.

Ispace's team Hakuto was one of the five finalists in the Google Lunar XPrize competition to send the first privately funded spacecraft to the moon, but the race ended in March as none of the five accomplished the goal before the deadline.

Bridenstine recently said he wants to have humans on Mars by the mid-2030s.

Entrepreneurs have long dreamed of enterprises like mining the moon for precious metals and helium isotopes that could be fuel for future fusion reactors, but success has been elusive. The absence of such customers during the now-defunct Google Lunar X Prize competition made it hard for many companies to fund their landers and thus attempt to win the prize.

On Nov. 29, NASA invited media to its headquarters in Washington, D.C. for the announcement of new Moon partnerships with American companies.

Both SpaceX and Boeing hold multibillion-dollar contracts to fly NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a Fortune request for comment. "The innovation of America's aerospace companies, wedded with our big goals in science and human exploration, are going to help us achieve unbelievable things on the Moon and feed forward to Mars", Bridenstine said. He gave the example of retroreflectors - essentially, fancy mirrors that reflect light in the direction it came from. "Each are entrepreneurial pioneers of commercial space bringing key capabilities to the table, and we look forward to working with them in offering robotic expeditions to the Moon for science, commerce and exploration".

In some ways, the NASA program is a revival of the Lunar X Prize. "Our lander design has secured substantial private funding".

The nine companies already have not-quite-finished hardware.

NASA announced several commercial partners Thursday in the USA space agency's quest to return humans to the moon - and eventually Mars.

NASA said that additional companies could be included at a later date. "At the end of the day the risk is high, but the return is also very high for a low investment". Whenever they get to the moon, they may not be alone.

We will remind, 49 years ago, American astronaut Neil Armstrong the first of the humans stepped on the lunar surface.

As The Next Web pointed out, the stars and stripes, stuck into the rocky landscape almost 50 years ago, remains the only territorial banner on the Moon's surface.

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