NASA Releases New Render of SpaceX's Starship Landed on the Moon's Surface

Lunar Delivery

NASA is still hoping to carefully lower astronauts to the lunar surface from a SpaceX Starship, marking humanity's triumphant return after over half a century.

At least, that's according to the plan as it currently stands. As part of its Artemis 3 mission, NASA is looking to launch a crew of four to the Moon as early as 2026 onboard its Orion capsule and then make its descent to the surface in a Starship.

Around five years later, NASA wants to leverage the help of both SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' space company Blue Origin to ferry cargo landers to the lunar surface.

While the mission, dubbed Artemis 7, is slated for no earlier than 2031, the space agency is already digging in. A number of recently released renders show off both Blue Origin's proposed cargo lander as well as SpaceX's Starship lowering a Moon rover to the surface with the help of an exterior elevator.

It's a fascinating glimpse of what our future efforts to establish a more permanent presence on the lunar surface could look like — but needless to say, the agency and its private partners have a mountain of work to do before the renders can ever be turned into reality.

Over the Moon

Earlier this month, NASA asked both SpaceX and Blue Origin to "develop cargo versions of their human lunar landers as an option under their existing contracts," per NASA's update. "These cargo variants are expected to land approximately 26,000 – 33,000 pounds (12 to 15 metric tons) of payload on the lunar surface and be in service no earlier than the Artemis VII mission."

Rugged rovers will play a crucial role in our ongoing efforts to explore the Moon's surface and build out a base.

"It’s essential that NASA has the capability to land not just astronauts, but large pieces of equipment, such as pressurized rovers, on the Moon for maximum return on science and exploration activities," said NASA Human Landing System program manager Lisa Watson-Morgan in a statement. "Beginning this work now allows SpaceX and Blue Origin to leverage their respective human lander designs to provide cargo variants that NASA will need in the future."

In other words, instead of starting from scratch, the idea is to make changes to existing lunar landers, including "adjustments for payload interfaces and deployment mechanisms," according to NASA. The new variants will also have no human life support systems, giving the companies far more room to play with.

Of course, NASA and its partners still have a lot to prove. As of now, SpaceX has yet to successfully launch and land its Starship rocket on Earth, nevermind the Moon. And Blue Origin hasn't even launched anything to orbit yet.

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