SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musk, right, speaks to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, center, and SpaceX Vice President of Propulsion Engineering, Will Heltsley, left, while viewing the OctaWeb, part of the Merlin engine used for the Falcon rockets, at the SpaceX Headquarters, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 in Hawthorne, CA. Photo credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

SpaceX Chief Engineer Elon Musk, right, speaks to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, center, and SpaceX Vice President of Propulsion Engineering, Will Heltsley, left, while viewing the OctaWeb, part of the Merlin engine used for the Falcon rockets, at the SpaceX Headquarters, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 in Hawthorne, CA. Photo credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani) Photo by NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the Hawthorne-based aerospace company, was awarded a $135 million contract by NASA as part of a nearly $1 billion effort to return astronauts to the moon by 2024.

Three companies — SpaceX; Blue Origin, the Washington-based space outfit owned by Jeff Bezos; and Alabama-based Dynetics Inc., a subsidiary of information technology firm Leidos Inc. — were part of a $976 million project announced by the federal agency on April 30.

The goal is to land a man and the first woman on the surface of the moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program.

Artemis seeks to return humans to the moon by 2024 and to establish sustainable exploration by 2028 in preparation for eventual human exploration of Mars, the agency said.

“This is the first time since the Apollo era that NASA has direct funding for a human landing system,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

Elon Musk-led SpaceX bid its Mars spacecraft, or Starship, for the contract last year.

The craft is expected to be a fully reusable rocket that can carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the moon, Mars and beyond, the company said.

SpaceX has been testing Starship prototypes at its Boca Chica, Texas, facility.

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