NASA picks Bezos' Blue Origin to build lunar landers for moonwalkers

Two years after losing to SpaceX, Jeff Bezos' rocket business has now been awarded a NASA contract to send people to the moon.

A $3.4 billion contract was awarded to Blue Origin on Friday to head a team building the Blue Moon lunar lander. After two crew landings by Elon Musk's SpaceX in 2029, it will be used to ferry people to the lunar surface.

NASA will use its own rockets and capsules to send people to lunar orbit, but it wants private businesses to take over after that.

In order to return to the moon more than 50 years after the Apollo moonshots ended, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the agency wants a variety of landing alternatives.

In addition to the NASA contract, Blue Origin is contributing billions of dollars to assist build a long-term presence on the moon.

Before we successfully land and return astronauts, there is still more work to be done, according to Blue Origin vice president John Couluris.

After NASA granted SpaceX the contract for the initial lunar landing two years ago, Blue Origin filed a lawsuit. The judgment of the space agency was affirmed by a federal judge.

Late last year, NASA's Artemis program, which is modeled after the Apollo moonshots of the 1960s and 1970s, began with a successful test flight. An empty Orion capsule was launched atop NASA's new moon rocket and made its way to the moon before returning to Earth.

One Canadian and three American astronauts will launch on the next Artemis mission in late 2019 and travel to and from the moon without landing. The mission after that would send two Americans, no sooner than late 2025, descending to the lunar surface aboard a SpaceX Starship.

Before having people on board, Blue Origin intends to rehearse lunar landings without a crew, like SpaceX.

While Blue Moon seems more like a classic capsule set atop a tall compartment with legs than the gleaming, stainless steel Starship, which has a science fantasy appearance. On the moon, the latter will be 52 feet (16 meters) tall.

Landers from both firms are designed to be recycled.

Blue Origin will launch its lunar missions from Cape Canaveral using its still-under-construction New Glenn rocket. The biggest rocket in the world, called Starship, made its premiere last month from South Texas; the test flight terminated abruptly in an exploding flame.

Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Draper, Astrobotic Technology, and Honeybee Robotics are the other five members of Blue Origin's crew.

According to NASA, there was just one other offer filed for the contract competition.