Draper will lead a team, including three other companies, to design, manufacture and launch a lunar lander - dubbed "Artemis-7" - to the moon. Under this architecture, NASA would become one "among many" customers.
"Today's announcement marks tangible progress in America's return to the Moon's surface to stay", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.
As The Next Web pointed out, the stars and stripes, stuck into the rocky landscape almost 50 years ago, remains the only territorial banner on the Moon's surface.
Instead of running a government-funded space program, like Apollo, the United States space agency will buy services, essentially becoming a customer to private businesses that build their own spacecraft. That will depend on the success of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. Some of these have already made successful voyages to the Moon and Mars.
Most of the companies involved have never flown a spacecraft of this complexity and scale, and Bridenstine acknowledged that some of the CLPS missions will likely fail to achieve a "soft" landing on the lunar surface. NASA, meanwhile, expects to have a continuous manned presence on the Moon within a decade. "We want to do it far more with commercial and global partners than we can do on our own".
Prior to the announcement, Bridenstine spoke on The Hill TV's "Rising" program, emphasizing the goal of the Space Policy Directive's mission to build the capabilities of not only returning to the Moon, but stay as a sustained presence.
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He added: "If only more owners (of professional football clubs) took his example of how to benefit the community, be involved". Srivaddhanaprabha "of course was a man of wealth, but that wealth did not leave him disconnected from those around him".
The McCandless Lunar Lander is named after the late astronaut and former Lockheed Martin employee Bruce McCandless, who in 1984 performed the first free-flying spacewalk without a lifeline to the orbiting shuttle, using a jetpack built by the company.
"More missions, more science", a news release about the CLPS program promised. The Verge notes that both had expressed interest in the program, but were not selected. We've proven this with the ISS with commercial resupply and, soon, commercial crew.
"I will tell you that was not helpful, and that did not inspire confidence, and the leaders of these organizations need to take that as an example of what to do when you lead an organization that's going to launch American astronauts", said Bridenstine. We'll have to see how things pan out, but it would be surprising if we see Musk push the envelop going forward.
Bridenstein said he's spoken with the South African-born Tesla founder, who promised he'd be changing his ways after being caught on video sipping a whiskey on the rocks and taking a hit from a joint on the "Joe Rogan Experience" podcast in September.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations.