"Today's announcement marks tangible progress in America's return to the Moon's surface to stay", announced Bridenstine during a public event held Thursday. Under Space Policy Directive-1, the agency will lead an innovative and sustainable exploration of the Moon together with commercial and global partners.
Private companies - instead of NASA - will lead the race back to the moon, with launch target dates set for 2019 - the 50 anniversary of the first manned moon landing.
NASA expects the selected contractors to begin flying to the moon as early as next year. The first few launches will probably be technology demonstrations, but NASA hopes to study radiation exposure on the moon as well as the potential for in-situ resource extraction.
"We are going", is an important part NASA's motto for its return to the Moon, and to get there, the space agency will need corporate partners.
But both of those companies may be heading to the moon, anyway.
For the new NASA program, called Commercial Lunar Payload Services, the moon landers would be far too small to carry people, but they could ferry scientific experiments to the lunar surface.
Researcher Anatoly Petrukovich explained that a Mars trip with the existing space travel technology is very hard, thus travelling to the moon is more logical goal.
Tourists take pictures of a NASA sign at the Kennedy Space Center visitors complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida April 14, 2010.
Under Space Policy Directive-1, the agency will lead an innovative and sustainable exploration of the Moon together with commercial and worldwide partners.
For the new missions, the company said it will use its uncrewed lander, Artemis-7, to complete sample selection and return, contribute to plans for the eventual return of humans to the moon's surface.
The Commercial Lunar Payload Services contracts are indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts with a combined maximum contract value of $2.6 billion during the next 10 years.
'We'll draw on the interests and capabilities of USA industry and global partners as American innovation leads astronauts back to the Moon and to destinations farther into the solar system, including Mars, ' said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine when the project was first announced in May. During Council meetings, U.S. government officials from civilian and military space along with space industry leaders such as SpaceX and Boeing, as well as other significant public and private institutions, hold discussions with high ranking members of the United States government, the Vice President being the Chairman. Under President George W. Bush, companies were awarded contracts to fly cargo to the International Space Station.
"More missions, more science", a news release about the CLPS program promised.
Bridenstine went on to say that Musk "is as committed to safety as anybody, and he understands that that was not appropriate behavior, and you won't be seeing that again", according to an account of the meeting reported by The Atlantic.