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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.

4 mins ago - Health

Popular independent COVID tracker officially ends daily updates

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer group of data analysts, researchers, and journalists brought together by The Atlantic, published its final daily update on Monday — the one-year anniversary of its founding.

Why it matters: The project quickly became a vital resource for news media, academic researchers, and everyday Americans to track COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the absence of reliable and public data from the federal government.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Energy and climate move closer to center stage on Capitol Hill

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The imminent enactment of Democrats' $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package creates space for lawmakers and the White House to craft infrastructure plans with big climate and energy-related provisions.

Why it matters: President Biden, during the campaign, vowed to make low-carbon energy, climate-resilient infrastructure and transportation projects a big focus of an economic recovery package. And the Texas power crisis could give fresh momentum to investments in grid modernization.