THE NEW SPACE RACE: At long last, the glorious future we were promised in space is on the way.
After losing the initial lander contract to SpaceX two years ago, Blue Origin did not just bid a lower price this time around. Instead, it radically transformed the means by which it would put humans on the Moon. The Blue Moon lander is now completely reusable; it will remain in lunar orbit, going up and down to the surface. It will be serviced by a transport vehicle that will be fueled in low-Earth orbit and then deliver propellant to the Moon. This transporter, in turn, will be refilled by multiple launches of the reusable New Glenn rocket.
To be sure, that is a lot of hardware that has yet to be built and tested. But when we step back, there is one inescapable fact. With SpaceX’s fully reusable Starship, and now Blue Moon, NASA has selected two vehicles based around the concept of many launches and the capability to store and transfer propellant in space.
This is a remarkable transformation in the way humans will explore outer space—potentially the biggest change in spaceflight since the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957. It has been a long time coming.
“We knew these were the right ideas decades ago,” said George Sowers, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. “It is gratifying to see folks coming around.”