NASA is going back to the Moon using commercial operators. But this time, the US space agency says it will be there to stay.

It’s been almost 50 years since humans first set foot on the moon. And since that historic time, space exploration has experienced tremendous progress.

“It’s important that we get back to the moon as fast as possible,” said Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s administrator, in a meeting at NASA’s Washington headquarters, adding he hoped to have astronauts back there by 2028.

The next chapter in U.S. lunar exploration will be different, he said. “This time when we go to the Moon, we’re actually going to stay,” he said at the roundtable that preceded an industry forum on the topic. “We’re not going to leave flags and footprints and then come home to not go back for another 50 years.”

“We care about speed. We do not expect that every one of those launches or every one of those landings will be successful,” associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said Thursday.

Bridenstine also told reporters Thursday that the agency plans to speed up plans backed by President Donald Trump to return to the moon, using private companies.

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Before humans land on the Moon again, NASA aims to land an unmanned vehicle on the Moon by 2024. The agency is already inviting concepts from the private sector for the probe.

The deadline for bids is March 25, with a first selection due in May

These concepts will provide the basis for returning a manned crew to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, using a space station in lunar orbit called Gateway. Bridenstine introduced Gateway last month, describing it as a home base for a reusable lunar lander. The orbiting base will make it easier for astronauts to shuttle back and forth from the lunar surface.

NASA’s proposal for returning to the moon meshes well with plans for Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin lunar lander, GeekWire reports. SpaceX, on the other hand, is building a lander intended to drop directly to planetary surfaces.

This time NASA wants to “go back and forth over and over again and not just to one or two parts of the Moon but to all parts of the Moon with landers and rovers, robots, and even humans,” he said.

The last person to walk on the Moon was Eugene Cernan in December 1972, during the Apollo 17 mission.

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Thumbnail image: NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine speaks about the agency’s lunar exploration plans at an industry forum on 14 February at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky