” One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
-Neil Armstrong

It was the year of 1969 when a human first touched moon. Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin took off in a Saturn V from Florida to fulfill the statement made by John F. Kennedy in 1961 (“before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”). Armstrong and Aldrin successfully landed on lunar surface with Michael Collins left in the command module and Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on moon. Way before Apollo 11, Apollo 8 crew members Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders became the first people to orbit another celestial body which was moon and took the famous photo of Earth rise. This year’s Christmas would mark 50 years of Apollo-8’s achievements.

Aldrin poses for portrait The lander and Neil Armstrong can be seen through Buzz’s visor’s reection.

All the manned moon landings had atleast one thing in common, they were conducted by NASA which is a part of United States government but recently NASA announced that the next moon landing will be done by private companies. NASA made this announcement on the last Thursday of November. They announced 9 different private companies which will compete with each other to land scientific instruments on lunar surface and for a contract of billions of dollars. This program is being called the Commercial Lunar Payload Services, and as the name suggests, the companies will focus on delivering the payload to the lunar surface and not humans. This is the first and one of a kind  mission announced by NASA. NASA basically wants these companies to develop a lander which can carry payloads to the moon which will help in conducting scientific experiments which will eventually help us in understanding our moon better than before. These companies were actually the winners of Commercial Lunar Payload Service program (the first round) and now they can win huge amount of money as funds in the next 10 years.

An artist’s illustration of the lunar lander Artemis-7 | DRAPER LABORATORY INC./KYODO

The last moon landing was in 1972 and now with the help of programs like Commercial Lunar Payload Service and NASA’s commercial crew program we can expect NASA to reach moon by 2022 and a manned mission to moon by 2025. The total contract value is $2.6 billion which will be given away in the span of 10 years. The companies which were selected by NASA are – 

  1. Astrobotic Technologies
  2. Deep Space Systems
  3. Firefly Aerospace
  4. Draper
  5. Lockheed Martin
  6. Intuitive Machines
  7. Moon Express
  8. Masten Space Systems
  9. Orbit Beyond
A rendering of Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lander. Astrobotic is one of the nine companies NASA is partnering with for CLPS Image: Astrobotic

NASA selected small and some new companies as they want the company’s main motive to be the lunar landing which needed companies specifically working for preparing landers for moon. NASA also didn’t include SpaceX and Blue Origins as the had already partnered up with Elon Musk’s Space X for recent missions and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is busy preparing a larger moon lander which goes by the name of Blue Moon. All these initiatives are a result of Trump Administration who put another moon landing before the Mars landing. According to Donald Trump’s space policy directive-1, NASA should collaborate with private companies to return to moon and then should work to go even farther, that is to Mars.

Lockheed Martin’s concept for a crewed lunar lander is a single stage, fully reusable system that would accommodate a crew of four and 2,000 pounds of payload to the moon. (Courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

All the companies are working hard to build a lander till 2021. These companies are also building partnerships with other companies to achieve this, even India,China and Israel are aiming to land a rover or lander on moon as soon as possible. These initiatives may even bring the price of future commercial space travels down by providing efficient technologies. There isn’t a better time to return to moon than in 2019. 2019 will mark the 50th year of Apollo 11, the first manned mission that landed on moon and where the man touched the moon for the very first time. All the other companies like SoaceX and Boeing are also working hard to transport humans to moon again. They are also working on sending humans to the International Space Station.

All of these initiatives will help us understand our moon better and will provide us with crucial information about new methods and techniques of space travel and exploration. The equipments that will be sent to the moon are not public yet (there is no word from NASA about them) but they probably will be similar to that of InSight’s so we can learn about the processes going below the lunar surface. These landings would also help us in future manned landings and would minimise the risk of failure in the manned landings. The instruments and rovers sent to moon will also be present at the time of next manned landing. This is a really big and a great initiative taken by NASA which will not only benefit small companies but will also open new doors for the complete human race!

 

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