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Artist's illustration of astronauts working on the Moon. Image: NASA

As the coronavirus rages, NASA is making strides toward its ambitious goal to launch astronauts to the surface of the Moon in the next four years.

The big picture: NASA's 2024 Artemis Moon mission is the Trump administration's tentpole civil space policy expected to challenge geopolitical rivals like China for supremacy in space.

  • "It's important that this agency do this now, because our country — and in fact the whole world — has been shaken by this coronavirus pandemic," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a press conference last week. "And yet, we need to give people hope."

What's happening: NASA last week announced it is awarding three companies millions of dollars to continue work to build human lander systems expected to bring people to the Moon's surface.

  • SpaceX, Dynetics and a team put together by Blue Origin will now work to refine their lander ideas over the coming months before NASA funds one or more of the ideas ahead of the 2024 landing.

Yes, but: While certain parts of the Artemis program are moving ahead, other parts of the space agency's plans have been put on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak.

  • NASA's building and development of its Space Launch System rocket have been largely paused due to the pandemic, potentially delaying the first flight of the long-delayed heavy-lift rocket the agency intends to use for its moonshot.
  • NASA also recently announced the agency will push off efforts to build its small Gateway space station in orbit around the Moon before the 2024 landing in favor of going directly to the surface for the first landing instead.
  • Members of the House Science Committee have also criticized the fact that the space agency is outsourcing the building of a lunar lander to these companies instead of building a bespoke system in-house, potentially spelling trouble for political support of the program going forward.

Go deeper: Comparing the Artemis and Apollo missions to the Moon

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Aug 11, 2020 - Science

SpaceX and ULA pull in huge defense contracts

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket takes flight. Photo: SpaceX

The Space Force's announcement last week that United Launch Alliance and SpaceX will launch expensive spy satellites and other military payloads brings a long and often fierce battle for government funds to an end — at least for now.

Why it matters: This type of government money — particularly in light of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic — is key for space companies that often work on thin margins.

Scoop: Trump-backed Perdue says he wouldn’t have certified Georgia 2020 results

Perdue at a December 2020 campaign event in Columbus, Ga. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Georgia gubernatorial candidate David Perdue wouldn’t have signed the certification of the state’s 2020 election results if he had been governor at the time, the former Senate Republican told Axios.

  • “Not with the information that was available at the time and not with the information that has come out now. They had plenty of time to investigate this. And I wouldn’t have signed it until those things had been investigated and that’s all we were asking for," he said.

Why it matters: There has been no evidence widespread fraud took place in Georgia's elections last year and the November results were counted three times, once by hand.

Beijing Olympics: These countries have announced diplomatic boycotts

Photo: Zhang Qiang/VCG via Getty Images

Several countries, including Canada and Australia, have announced they will join the U.S. in a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics to protest human rights abuses committed by China's government.

Driving the news: Leaders have faced pressure from human rights groups and others to boycott the Games, pointing to the ongoing genocide of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China's Xinjiang region and other abuses.