NASA Halts Elon Musk's Massive Lunar Lander Contract

SpaceX is going to have to wait a bit before the company can continue its plans to get to the Moon. Days after the company was awarded a lucrative $2.9 billion dollar contract to develop a lunar lander as part of NASA's Artemis program, NASA has temporarily halted the contract in order to iron some wrinkles out. Shortly after the contract was awarded to Musk's SpaceX, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Office alleging wrongdoing by NASA.

According to Blue Origin's filing and its subsequent statement, NASA's bidding process "unreasonably favored" the SpaceX proposal and carried out a "flawed acquisition" by awarding the contract to its frequent collaborator.

"NASA has executed a flawed acquisition for the Human Landing System program and moved the goalposts at the last minute," the company's statement reads. "Their decision eliminates opportunities for competition, significantly narrows the supply base, and not only delays, but also endangers America's return to the Moon. Because of that, we've filed a protest with the GAO."

In a statement obtained by The Verge, SpaceX will now have to wait before the contract is finalized. That means until the two complaints are settled — one filed by Blue Origin and another by the smaller Huntsville, Ala.-based Dynetics — funding won't be distributed to the company.

"Pursuant to the GAO protests, NASA instructed SpaceX that progress on the HLS contract has been suspended until GAO resolves all outstanding litigation related to this procurement," NASA spokeswoman Monica Witt told the website.

It's unclear how long the GAO process will take.

Last year, NASA said it would be choosing two vendors to help develop lunar landers for the Artemis program, a mission hoping to get boots back on the moon by 2024. Instead, due to slashed funding, the outfit was only able to award a single contract to just one vendor.

During the Artemis program, NASA will land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon, using innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before. We will collaborate with our commercial and international partners and establish sustainable exploration for the first time. Then, we will use what we learn on and around the Moon to take the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.

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Cover photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images