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The Moon. Photo: NASA

NASA is asking private companies to help the space agency collect dirt and rocks from the Moon, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine announced today.

Why it matters: The solicitation is part of NASA's push to commercialize space and make the agency a buyer of services in space instead of a sole provider.

  • That commercialization could help NASA focus on further-afield goals like getting humans to Mars instead of focusing on more basic operations that could be passed off to industry.

What's happening: Private companies selected for the mission will be required to collect lunar rocks and dirt for NASA but will not be responsible for delivering the samples back to Earth.

  • Instead, NASA is asking that the companies cache the samples on the Moon, taking detailed photos of the collection site and samples before transferring ownership of the material to the agency.
  • "NASA’s payment is exclusively for the lunar regolith, with any awardee receiving 10 percent at award, 10 percent upon launch, and the remaining 80 percent upon successful completion," Bridenstine wrote in a blog post.
  • NASA hopes that the sampling and transfer of ownership will be done before 2024.

The big picture: That 2024 deadline is important because NASA is planning to launch people to the Moon that year as part of its Artemis program.

  • These lunar rock samples will allow scientists to perform new analyses and learn more about how to possibly harvest resources like water from the Moon that can then be used to accomplish bigger missions, like a trip to Mars.

Yes, but: It's not yet clear whether the commercial space industry will be able to support this kind of sample collection in just a couple of years.

  • Sample collection and landing on the Moon, in general, isn't easy, so this kind of request on this timescale is asking a lot of a nascent part of a growing industry.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Dec 18, 2020 - Science

Astronaut Mike Hopkins sworn into the Space Force from orbit

Mike Hopkins aboard the International Space Station. Photo: NASA

NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins was sworn in as the newest member of the U.S. Space Force Friday from his post onboard the International Space Station.

Why it matters: Hopkins is the first NASA astronaut to serve in the Space Force.

Updated 40 mins ago - World

Mexican President López Obrador tests positive for coronavirus

Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during a press conference at National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, on Wednesday. Photo: Ismael Rosas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced Sunday evening that he's tested positive for COVID-19.

Driving the news: López Obrador tweeted that he has mild symptoms and is receiving medical treatment. "As always, I am optimistic," he added. "We will all move forward."

56 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor of Arkansas

Sarah Huckabee Sanders at FOX News' studios in New York City in 2019. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will announce Monday that she's running for governor of Arkansas.

The big picture: Sanders was touted as a contender after it was announced she was leaving the Trump administration in June 2019. Then-President Trump tweeted he hoped she would run for governor, adding "she would be fantastic." Sanders is "seen as leader in the polls" in the Republican state, notes the Washington Post's Josh Dawsey, who first reported the news.