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Notably absent from the list are SpaceX and Boeing, though NASA recently ordered a safety review of the two companies, both of which are working to launch crewed missions.

That's when NASA plans to give an update about a program that aims to land privately developed spacecraft on the moon.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced the nine companies that will be the first to participate in the agency's new Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.

The Commercial Lunar Payload Services program is a priority of NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who said in May that leveraging commercial capabilities would allow for more frequent and affordable access to the lunar surface. But it is also expected to serve as a launching point for missions to other parts of the solar system, including the planet Mars.

Russian space agency Roscosmos recently revealed its plans to build up a human colony on the moon with 20 years, by 2040.

"In conjunction with our Beta launch vehicle and our partnership with Intuitive Machines, Firefly will provide an integrated lunar services offering, from the launch pad to the surface of the moon", said Firefly CEO Tom Markusic via email.

"Working with USA companies is the next step to achieving long-term scientific study and human exploration of the moon and Mars", NASA said in a. As part of a push to continue American leadership in space, the Directive instructs NASA to develop a flexible deep space infrastructure to support the increasing complexity of missions.

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NASA's next lunar science experiments will arrive at the Moon via a spacecraft built by one of nine private companies - a first for one of the agency's science missions.

If NASA's of a car-size robot on Mars didn't already whet your appetite for space exploration this week, mark your calendar for 2 p.m. ET on Thursday.

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of when U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon.

The good news for the companies concerned is that they are now eligible to bid for "indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity" contracts with a combined maximum value of $2.6bn during the next 10 years.

In response, NASA submitted a plan to Congress: the National Space Exploration Campaign, which "calls for human and robotic exploration missions to expand the frontiers of human experience and scientific discovery of the natural phenomena of Earth, other worlds and the cosmos", the agency said.

NASA is still deciding what it wants to launch, but Bridenstine stresses that this effort is being driven by science and that is why SMD is leading it, rather than the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD). However, only 12 astronauts have ever stepped foot on the lunar surface.

This illustration made available by NASA in 2018 shows the InSight lander drilling into Mars.