How Did SpaceX Defeat Everyone In NASA’s New Space Race?

In a surprising twist of events that should have been obvious in hindsight, SpaceX defeated team Blue Origin (which included Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman & Draper) and defense contractor Dynetics for bragging rights of landing NASA’s first woman and colored astronauts on the Moon.

NASA is getting ready to send astronauts to explore more of the Moon as part of the Artemis program, and the agency has selected SpaceX to continue development of the first commercial human lander that will safely carry the next two American astronauts to the lunar surface. At least one of those astronauts will make history as the first woman on the Moon. Another goal of the Artemis program includes landing the first person of color on the lunar surface.

The agency’s powerful Space Launch System rocket will launch four astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft for their multi-day journey to lunar orbit. There, two crew members will transfer to the SpaceX human landing system (HLS) for the final leg of their journey to the surface of the Moon. After approximately a week exploring the surface, they will board the lander for their short trip back to orbit where they will return to Orion and their colleagues before heading back to Earth.

The firm-fixed price, milestone-based contract total award value is $2.89 billion.

NASA

Ignoring SpaceX’s relative success in out-innovating the competition (which is ironically becoming a trend), why did NASA choose SpaceX over rivals‽ The answer can be summed up in several words: Congressional visionless incompetence.

In a document explaining NASA’s rationale for picking SpaceX obtained by The Washington Post, NASA said it wanted “to preserve a competitive environment at this stage of the HLS Program.” But it added that “NASA’s current fiscal year budget did not support even a single [contract] award.” As a result, SpaceX updated its payment schedule so that it now fits “within NASA’s current budget.”

Washington Post

If Congress had not carried out the tradition of routinely disappointing the space community, NASA would have chosen two companies (probably SpaceX & team Blue Origin). But with the new budget constraints, Elon Musk’s rocket company was the only one willing to work within NASA’s new constraints to propel humanity towards the stars.

Budget permitting, NASA will probably attempt to work with SpaceX rivals on other lunar projects, but as for now SpaceX’s continual dominance of the space industry is raising questions of the relevance of SpaceX’s rivals (at least as far as human space flight is concerned).