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

Aug 1, 2020 - Science

NASA astronauts head home after historic spaceflight

The Crew Dragon spacecraft as it leaves the International Space Station. Photo: NASA TV

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are heading back to Earth from the International Space Station aboard their SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Why it matters: Behnken and Hurley's return will mark the end of SpaceX's first crewed mission to the station and the first mission in which American astronauts launched from U.S. soil in nine years.

Updated 49 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Trump whisked out of press briefing after shooting outside White House

President Trump was escorted out of a coronavirus press briefing by a Secret Service agent on Monday evening after law enforcement reportedly shot an armed suspect outside of the White House.

What's new: The 51-year-old suspect approached a uniformed Secret Service officer on the corner of 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, near the White House, and said he had a weapon, the agency alleged in a statement late Monday. He "ran aggressively towards the officer, and in a drawing motion, withdrew the object from his clothing."

Updated 1 hour ago - World

Protests in Belarus turn deadly following sham election

Belarus law enforcement officers guard a street during a protest on Monday night. Police in Minsk have fired rubber bullets for a second night against protesters. Photo: Natalia Fedosenko/TASS via Getty Image

Protesters and security forces have been clashing across Belarus overnight in a second night of protests that has left at least one person dead, hundreds injured and thousands arrested.

Why it matters: Sunday’s rigged presidential elections have yielded political uncertainty unlike any seen in Aleksander Lukashenko’s 26-year tenure. After claiming an implausible 80% of the vote, Lukashenko is using every tool in the authoritarian arsenal to maintain his grip on power.