SpaceX picked for moonwalkers, on verge of 3rd crew launch

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SpaceX Crew 2 members, from left, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide gather at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Friday, April 16, 2021 to prepare for a mission to the International Space Station. The launch is targeted for April 22. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA chose SpaceX on Friday to build the lunar lander that will eventually put the first woman and person of color on the moon.

The announcement came a few hours after SpaceX's most international crew of astronauts yet arrived in Florida for a liftoff next week.

Elon Musk's Starship — the futuristic, shiny steel rocketship that's been launching and exploding in Texas — beat out landers proposed by Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Dynetics, a subsidiary of Leidos. The contract is worth $2.89 billion.

“We won't stop at the moon,” said NASA's acting administrator Steve Jurczyk. Mars is the ultimate goal, he told reporters.

NASA declined to provide a target launch date for the moon-landing Artemis mission, saying a review is underway. The Trump administration had set a 2024 deadline, but on Friday, NASA officials called it a goal.

“We'll do it when it's safe," said Kathy Lueders, who leads NASA's human space exploration office.

She indicated NASA and SpaceX are shooting for later this decade. The astronauts will fly to the moon on the NASA-launched Orion capsule, then transfer to Starship in lunar orbit for the ride down to the surface and back.

NASA has said at least one of the first moonwalkers since 1972 would be the first woman on the moon. Another goal of the program, according to the space agency, is to send a person of color to the lunar surface.