Elon Musk's private space company is developing a giant rocket called Starship to one day take people to Mars.
But first, it will drop off NASA astronauts at the moon.
NASA announced Friday that it had awarded a contract to SpaceX for $2.9 billion to use Starship to take astronauts from lunar orbit to the surface of the moon.
The contract extends NASA's trend of relying on private companies to ferry people, cargo and robotic explorers to space. But it also represents something of a triumph for Musk in the battle of space billionaires. One of the competitors for the NASA lunar contract was Blue Origin, created by Jeff Bezos of Amazon.
When NASA achieves the goal of landing the next astronauts on the moon as part of its Artemis program -- now promised by the Biden administration to include the first woman and the first person of color there -- they are likely to be riding in a SpaceX vehicle.
"We are confident in NASA's partnership with SpaceX to help us achieve the Artemis mission," Lisa Watson-Morgan, the program manager at NASA overseeing development of the landers, said during a telephone news conference Friday, "and look forward to continuing our work toward landing astronauts on the moon to prepare for the next giant leap towards Mars."
NASA last year awarded contracts to three companies for initial design work on landers that could carry humans to the lunar surface. In addition to SpaceX, NASA selected proposals from Dynetics, a defense contractor in Huntsville, Ala., and Bezos' Blue Origin.