Elon Musk-led SpaceX's Mars-colonizing Starship vehicle may make the first landing on the Moon in 2022. The opportunity will be from a likely collaboration with NASA in one of its lunar programs named CLPS.

SpaceX may be chosen as one of the five companies that will deliver robotic payloads on the lunar surface for NASA’s missions on the moon, under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.

If things move according to plan, the Starship and Super Heavy reusable spaceship-rocket duo will take NASA payloads to the moon in another two years.

“We are aiming to be able to drop Starship on the lunar surface in 2022,” said SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell at NASA-organized CLPS teleconference on Nov. 18.

SpaceX is in the process of fast-tracking its multifarious space vehicle infrastructure aiming crewed and unscrewed missions to different planets including Mars and Moon.

CEO Elon Musk had recently unveiled a shiny full-size prototype of the vehicle called Starship Mk1 and its 12-mile-high (20 kilometers) uncrewed test flights are due in a few months. Mars colonization discourse by SpaceX has created an avid Mars audience as much as Bruno Mars.

SpaceX will bid for NASA lunar delivery services and try to become a preferred partner after competing with 14 firms.

Starship flights under the CLPS banner will be mandated to ferry gear for a variety of customers. “Starship can carry 110 tons (100 metric tons) to the moon's gray surface on each trip,” Shotwell said.

An important part of the Artemis program

The CLPS program is a vital component of NASA’s Artemis mission of crewed lunar exploration to place two astronauts, on the moon by 2024 for a long-term human presence by 2028, per NASA news. One of the astronauts will be a woman.

The selected commercial spacecraft will have to land hardware and experiments including NASA's water-ice-mapping Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) on the lunar surface.

Shotwell said SpaceX is excited about the CLPS partnership as Starship is designed to carry people as well.

SpaceX has already committed a crewed Starship mission with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and some artists for a flight around the moon most likely in 2023.

Apollo 12 lunar mission crosses half-century

Meanwhile, the 50th anniversary of the lunar mission, Apollo 12, was celebrated on November 19.

Under the mission, astronaut Pete Conrad landed on the surface of the moon with the words: “Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me.”

Conrad became the third human to set foot on the lunar surface on November 19, 1969. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the first lunar landing in May 1969.

But Apollo 12 was largely an unknown mission, according to Teasel Muir-Harmony, the curator of the Apollo Collection at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington.  (L-R) NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, SpaceX founder Elon Musk, and astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken speaking during a news conference at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California on October 10, 2019 (L-R) NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, SpaceX founder Elon Musk, and astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken speaking during a news conference at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California on October 10, 2019 Photo: www.philippachecophoto.com / Philip Pacheco

Conrad and fellow astronaut Alan Bean never became household names the way Armstrong and Aldrin were celebrated worldwide.

Muir-Harmony sees Apollo 12 from a wider perspective, if Apollo 11 was about proving to land on the moon, Apollo 12 was a value addition by improving the processes and doing them better.

“The major focus of Apollo 12 was the pinpoint landing," noted Muir-Harmony as the landing was so perfect on the edge of a crater just 600 feet from the robotic probe called Surveyor III.

For the moon landing of SpaceX  Starship, it is going to be a "lunar new year" in its career. The credentials in uncrewed efforts including the launch of communication-satellites and confidence on cargo missions to the Mars surface will help SpaceX accelerate the efforts.