Blue Origin lander on moon

It's easy to stay six feet apart if you have an Artemis human landing system at your disposal.

Forget limiting your quarantine to a studio or houseboat. What if you could leave this Covid-ridden planet entirely?

Forgive us for letting our minds wander when NASA announced on Thursday that Kent-based Blue Origin would be one of three companies developing a human landing system for the Artemis program, which aims to bring astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972. (Liftoff is scheduled for around 2024, though that timeline may be a tad ambitious.) Designs by SpaceX and Dynetics also won contracts that, all together, totaled $967 million. NASA will assess in early 2021 which models can proceed to initial missions. “NASA’s Artemis program will be the next major milestone in the history of human space flight, and we’re honored to be a part of it,” says Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith.

The Artemis (Apollo's sister) program isn't just setting its sights on the moon. Sustained space exploration by 2028 and future Mars missions to Mars are also in the works. But first, the focus remains on a lunar adventure to conjure "one small step for man"—with more gender equality this time around. “With these contract awards, America is moving forward with the final step needed to land astronauts on the moon by 2024, including the incredible moment when we will see the first woman set foot on the lunar surface,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. “This is the first time since the Apollo era that NASA has direct funding for a human landing system, and now we have companies on contract to do the work for the Artemis program.”

It's a list you definitely want to be on if you're Blue Origin, the aerospace company Jeff Bezos founded in 2000 to help build "a future where millions of people are living and working in space," as its website puts it. It will call on a team of Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper to make a lander vehicle that "is most like the lander used during the Apollo mission, with a large descent stage that slows the spacecraft as it comes down from orbit to the surface," writes The New York Times's Kenneth Chang. If you're wondering what that might actually look like, check out this video the company released yesterday and feast your eyes on all that, uh, space.

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