NASA unveils first commercial lander services on path to return astronauts to moon by 2024

ORLANDO, Fla. — NASA officials have set a goal of returning astronauts to the surface of the moon by 2024, but first they need a way to get there.

The agency announced Friday its first commercial partners, who will be tasked with designing and building a moon landing service.

The organizations selected are Astrobotic of Pittsburgh, Intuitive Machines of Houston and Orbit Beyond of Edison, New Jersey.


Each partner will be tasked with flying NASA instruments to the lunar surface. The exact payloads will be determined by the end of the summer, NASA officials said.

Some of the payloads will include scientific instruments that measure radiation, improve landing accuracy and study the affects of astronaut activity on the moon.

Astrobotic was awarded $79.5 million to send up to 14 payloads to Lacus Mortis, a large crater on the near side of the moon. Intuitive Machines was awarded $77 million to send five payloads to Oceanus Procellarum, a dark spot on the moon. Orbit Beyond was awarded $97 million to send as many as four payloads to one of the moon's lava plains.

"These landers are just the beginning of exciting commercial partnerships that will bring us closer to solving the many scientific mysteries of our moon, our solar system and beyond,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “What we learn will not only change our view of the universe, but also prepare our human missions to the moon and, eventually, Mars."

The last time an astronaut stood on the moon’s dusty and barren surface was during the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. The mission also marked the last time a person left low-Earth orbit.

Twelve men explored the moon’s surface before the Apollo program ended. Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt were the last people to set foot on the celestial body.

Since the end of Apollo, NASA’s manned missions have focused on the International Space Station and a handful of repair jobs to fix the Hubble Space Telescope.

The iconic space shuttle flew more than 800 crew members into space before the spacecraft’s flights were halted in 2008.

By setting sights back on the moon, NASA is expanding its budget and utilizing private space industry in a post-space shuttle era.

The goals of the new landers will be to conduct science experiments, demonstrate new technology and assist the overall mission to return astronauts to the distant, but not forgotten, lunar landscape.

Watch Eyewitness News at starting at 4 p.m. for more on the announcement.

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