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

NASA today announced three companies — Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, Dynetics and Elon Musk's SpaceX — will continue developing their lunar landers designed to bring astronauts to the Moon.

Why it matters: In spite of the coronavirus pandemic, NASA is moving forward with its plans to send humans back to the surface of the Moon by 2024 as part of its Artemis program.

The big picture: These kinds of government contracts are key for space companies hoping to make it through the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Those types of funds could help them stay afloat as other means of financing dry up.

Details: Blue Origin's system also brings together Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper Labs — powerhouses in the space industry — to develop the key components to take astronauts down to the lunar surface.

  • SpaceX will use Starship — a craft currently in development that the company hopes to one day use to send people to places like Mars — to bring crew and cargo from orbit around the Moon to its surface.
  • Dynetics' design hinges on a structure that can both land on and ascend from the surface of the Moon.
  • NASA is awarding a combined total of $967 million to these companies.
“This is the first time since the Apollo era that NASA has direct funding for a human landing system, and now we have companies on contract to do the work for the Artemis program."
— NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement

What's next: The companies will now continue to study and develop their plans over the coming months before NASA starts to make decisions about which landing systems will continue on in the process.

  • "We've got all the pieces we need," NASA's head of human spaceflight Doug Loverro, said during a press call Thursday.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
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 44 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Congressional leaders clinch support for crucial defense bill, debt limit votes

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer passes waiting reporters on Tuesday. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Congress has found a shortcut to pass its annual defense funding bill and raise the debt limit.

Driving the news: The House voted Tuesday night on two major bills — one creating a one-time, fast-track process for the Senate to raise the debt ceiling with just 51 votes, and another passing its annual defense bill.

House passes annual defense bill

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The House voted to pass the annual defense bill 363-70 on Tuesday night, authorizing nearly $770 billion in funding for defenses and national security programs.

Why it matters: The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) still has to clear the Senate, but the House passage greatly increases the chances that the must-pass defense bill will move through both chambers of Congress before the end of the year.