Instead of making progress on its massively ambitious plans to return astronauts to the surface of the Moon, NASA is embroiled in legal battles over its decision to hand SpaceX its lunar lander contract.
Now, The Verge has obtained legal filings that show NASA's frustration with Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin's request to negotiate its $5.9 billion lunar lander contract.
The backstory is that back in 2019, NASA put out a call to the private space industry for a new spacecraft design capable of returning the first astronauts to the lunar surface since 1972.
After several rounds, SpaceX was awarded a $2.9 billion contract in April — prompting protests and a lawsuit against NASA by Blue Origin.
NASA's hands were tied with extremely limited funding from Congress and ended up choosing the lowest bidder. Blue Origin however chose a different negotiation tactic, pitching its Blue Moon lander for almost twice as much: $5.9 billion.
In the documents obtained by The Verge, NASA argued in May that Blue Origin was acting in bad faith and chose to come in at a much higher bid with the expectation of NASA negotiating them down.
Blue Origin was convinced that NASA would have enough money from Congress to cover its steep asking price — but that couldn't have been further from the truth, with lawmakers putting NASA's project to return to the Moon under restrictive financial constraints.
The Bezos-led company argued that it should've changed the terms of the contract once it was clear Congress was only going to give it a fraction of what it requested, according to The Verge.
NASA wasn't convinced at all by that argument, calling the space company out for making a bet that "it lost" in the documents.
"Realizing now that it gambled and lost, Blue Origin seeks to use GAO’s procurement oversight function to improperly compel NASA to suffer the consequences of Blue Origin’s ill-conceived choices," the space agency's attorney wrote in a May report, as quoted by The Verge.
Even Bezos sweetening the deal with a $2 billion discount in July didn't sway NASA's leadership.
Blue Origin also tried to argue that SpaceX wasn't implementing proper safety reviews ahead of each rocket launch during Starship prototype testing. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk dismissed the argument arguing in a tweet last week that "we always do flight readiness reviews! This argument makes no sense."
So where does all of this leave NASA's Artemis program? Blue Origin's lawsuit has already been a huge setback for the agency's ambitious plans.
Now, either the court finds that NASA gave SpaceX unfair treatment or that Blue Origin's protests are null — two possibilities with drastically different outcomes.
And the stakes are higher than ever. SpaceX and NASA could soon resume meaningful progress on the Starship launch vehicle — or the entire contract could have to be redone in its entirety, which could represent a huge blow for the agency's efforts to return astronauts to the Moon.
READ MORE: Blue Origin ‘gambled’ with its Moon lander pricing, NASA says in legal documents [The Verge]
More on the contract: Head of NASA: Jeff Bezos’ Lawsuit Likely to Delay Human Moon Landing