On Friday, NASA selected SpaceX to develop a spacecraft that will land astronauts on the Moon for the first time since the last Apollo mission. The contract marks another major victory for Elon Musk's company and strengthens its status as one of NASA's key partners.

The private corporation of Elon Musk has won a NASA contract to create a lunar lander for landing astronauts on the Moon within the Artemis program, the space agency reported.

SpaceX's rivals for this contract were Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, which has teamed up with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper, and Dynetics.

NASA's lunar Artemis program will include three flights to the Moon. The contract amount is $2.89 billion, and the first uncrewed stage of this program is scheduled for 2021. The Space Launch System rocket with the Orion spacecraft is supposed to fly around the Moon and return to Earth. During the second stage, which is set for 2023, the spacecraft will fly around the Moon with a crew. The landing on the lunar surface itself is planned for 2024. It is SpaceX that will develop the first commercial lander, which will safely deliver two American astronauts to the lunar surface.

According to NASA's concept, four astronauts will fly to the Gateway lunar station on the Orion spacecraft, which will be launched from Earth on a super-powerful SLS rocket. Then, two of them will go to the Moon on SpaceX's Starship. NASA said that the return trip would be the same.

The Artemis space program is funded by the US government. One of its goals is to send the first woman to the Moon in the next 10 years. NASA expects the program to be a stepping stone to establishing a permanently inhabited outpost on the Moon.

The European Space Agency (ESA), Japan, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, and several other countries have also joined this space program. Russia refused to participate in a joint lunar program with the United States.