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NASA Names 9 Private Companies in Competition to Build Moon Probes

(KPIX 5) -- NASA has a new plan for getting back to the moon and beyond and is teaming up with private industry for the next phase of space travel.

The U.S. first landed on the moon nearly 50 years ago and we haven't been back since 1972.

On Thursday, NASA says that's going to change. The agency is partnering with nine private aerospace companies to build robotic landers. These companies will design and build rovers to explore the surface.

The goal is to get science and technology experiments to the moon as soon as possible. NASA says the companies will compete to deliver those experiments and arrange their own rocket rides.

However, the ultimate goal stretches far beyond the moon. "We're going to the moon. We're going to retire risk, prove capability and technology, and ultimately we want to take it all the way to Mars," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

The project will act as a test-bed for future flights to Mars. NASA's partners include well-known companies like Lockheed Martin, and some that many have never even heard of – such as Orbit Beyond and Moon Express.

The Director of the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Steven Beckwith, told KPIX 5 the partnerships are in the U.S. national interest

"You can see some of our national competitors, China, Japan, India," said Beckwith. "They are all creating their own industries in the same way because these are all great strategic importance."

Two space heavyweights were left off the NASA list: Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' rocket company Blue Origin. Experts say the reason is the companies only offer launch services, but don't provide payloads.

The nine companies, representing seven states, are:

Astrobiotic Technology Inc., Pittsburgh; Deep Space Systems, Littleton, Colorado; Draper, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Firefly Aerospace Inc., Cedar Park, Texas; Intuitive Machines, Houston; Lockheed Martin, Littleton; Masten Space Systems Inc., Mojave, California; Moon Express, Cape Canaveral; and Orbit Beyond, Edison, New Jersey.

Lockheed Martin already has a moon lander in the works modeled after the Mars InSight lander, which the company built for NASA. Insight arrived at Mars on Monday.

Bridenstine expects to have humans working intermittently on the moon, along with robots and rovers, within a decade.


© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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