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April 17, 2021

NASA picked Elon Musk's SpaceX as the sole company to build spacecraft that will send humans back to the moon for the first time since the early 1970s, the space agency announced Friday, dashing the hopes of Jeff Bezos and his company Blue Origin, as Musk collects his latest and among most significant victories in the billionaire space race.

“It is one more step, in an exciting group of steps, that will get us to a sustainable human landing system to the moon,” Kathy Lueders, the leader of NASA’s human spaceflight program, said in the agency’s announcement.

SpaceX’s contract is worth $2.89 billion. The Washington Post first reported SpaceX’s win on Friday.

NASA last year awarded the three teams with $967 million and 10-month contracts to begin work on the lunar lander concepts under its Human Landing Systems, or HLS, program. SpaceX was awarded the least amount of those three, with $135 million. Meanwhile, Dynetics received $253 million and Blue Origin had won $579 million.

NASA was expected to choose two of the three teams, making the sole selection of SpaceX a surprise given the agency’s prior goals for the program to continue to be a competition.

For the HLS program, Musk’s company bid a variation of its Starship rocket, prototypes of which SpaceX has been testing at its development facility in Boca Chica, Texas. The company has performed multiple successful test flights of Starship to date, although landing attempts after the last four high-altitude flights ended in a variety of fiery explosions.

NASA said its astronauts will use Starship to transfer from the agency’s Orion spacecraft when the capsule reaches lunar orbit.

HLS is a part of NASA’s Artemis mission to land astronauts on the moon by 2024.

The mission was announced by President Donald Trump’s administration. President Joe Biden’s press secretary has indicated the current administration expects to continue with Artemis.