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Return To The Moon: What Changes In The Artemis Project?

NASA officially announced it selected SpaceX’s Starship to land humans on the Moon as part of the agency’s Artemis program.
Under the terms of the award, SpaceX will fly Starship to the lunar surface without a crew at least once before transporting astronauts. NASA says there is still a chance that mission could happen in 2024, although the agency is currently conducting a review of the entire Artemis program.
What prompted NASA to make this choice? And how will the structure and timing of the Artemis project now change?
Return to the Moon: What changes in the Artemis project?
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First of all it must be said that investing in Starship will help NASA return to the Moon, but it will also do something more consequential. Starship is a Mars ship! By choosing Starship for the Moon, NASA is investing in the Starship program itself, providing SpaceX with a cash infusion for the same technology and systems it needs to get to the Red Planet – a true “Moon-to-Mars” strategy if there ever was one.
However, it is also true that this decision is not without risk:
NASA previously selected at least two companies to provide commercial cargo and crew services to the International Space Station in order to preserve competition, control cost, and ensure redundancy. By selecting only SpaceX, NASA is putting all its eggs in one basket.
But SpaceX has previously delivered on its NASA contracts. In the past 20 years they have grown from a small startup to the world’s premier aerospace company, launching cargo and astronauts at a pace commensurate with national space agencies. NASA now places the lives of its astronauts in the hands of SpaceX to reach the ISS, relies on the company to supply the space station, and places its precious scientific missions atop their rockets.
If Starship succeeds in returning humans to the lunar surface, it will be the ultimate vindication of the public-private partnership model. NASA will gain a lunar lander at a fraction of the cost of the Apollo-era Lunar Module, and SpaceX – a private entity – would gain independent access to the lunar surface, a locale previously the domain of a single nation.
And in the same fell swoop, both organizations would step toward Mars.
Seen this way, it might make sense…what do you guys think?
To understand how this decision was arrived at, however, one must take a step back and reconsider the policy steps that preceded it.
Humans have not traveled beyond Earth orbit since the Apollo program ended in 1972. NASA has officially been trying to change that since 2004, when President George Bush announced what became the agency’s back-to-the-Moon Constellation program. Do you remember that?

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Credits: Ron Miller
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Credits: Nasa/Shutterstock/Storyblocks/Elon Musk/SpaceX/ESA/ESO
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