When Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt blasted off from the surface of the moon on the evening of Dec. 14, 1972, very few people believed it would be NASA's last manned moon mission for 47 years - and counting.
But ever since, the American manned space program has been very much focused on working and exploring in Earth's orbit.
Now, America's human spaceflight plans have been kicked back into high gear.
Later this month, on May 27, American astronauts are slated to launch from American soil aboard an American vehicle for the first time since the Space Shuttle retired back in 2011. In fact, the "Crew Dragon/Falcon 9" mission is a true joint government-commercial venture between Elon Musk's SpaceX and NASA.
And in 2021, Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) plans a crewed launch of its new CST-100 "Starliner" crew capsule.
One of the chief aims of these projects is a return to the moon.
The Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s were capably assisted by American private enterprise, but they were essentially muscle-flexing demonstrations of American missile and materials technology, shot squarely across the Soviet Union's bow.
But these new 21st century missions have a decidedly commercial purpose.
Now, Trump's overwhelming preference for American space dominance is on the record. And so it surprised no one when the president recently signed an executive order to allow the United States to begin mining water and other natural resources... on the moon.
There's water, strategic metals, minerals, and even precious metals like gold and platinum - wealth beyond measure - "out there" for the taking.
And now the word is out, and the new, commercial "Space Race" is on. Many companies will play a role, but the one I'm thinking of - one that's already doubled our money - will be a real linchpin in this new era...[mmpazkzone name="in-story" network="9794" site="307044" id="137008" type="4"]
Project "Artemis" Could Unfold Quickly
The folks at NASA, who seem to like Greek mythology as much as they do rocket science, have dubbed this new moon race "Project Artemis," named after the mythical sister of Apollo.
The U.S. space agency hasn't set a firm date as to when mining may begin, but the plan is to get Americans back to the moon in fairly short order.
It is planned in three initial stages, culminating with astronauts landed near the moon's southern polar region, where water ice was recently discovered.
Now, the timeline for this project is certainly ambitious; the astronaut's landing is supposed to take place by 2024. The first test stage, Artemis 1, is set for testing next year.
And the mission is hardly about collecting rocks and hitting golf balls or 4-wheeling across the lunar surface. Artemis is far more complex than simply sending a rocket to the moon with a couple of astronauts.
This time around, Artemis is about developing an entire, multi-spacecraft system that will allow the United States to access the moon regularly and relatively easily, like a way station or highway rest stop.
One key component to Artemis' efforts is the Space Launch System, a super heavy-lift launch vehicle - the biggest and most powerful since the Apollo-era Saturn V rockets - that can haul immense payloads into a variety of orbits.
Another vehicle, still in development at Lockheed and several other global companies, is the international Gateway station, a proposed small space station that would orbit the moon every seven days to allow for science experiments, human habitation, and staging for rovers and other moon gear.
But accomplishing this is one of the most complex and ambitious endeavors the agency has taken on in decades. NASA already has committed $17 billion to the effort, with billions more to follow.
And my favorite company in the space race has nabbed the $2.7 billion contract for the orbiter, and it's taken a leading role in a few other project components, too.
Lockheed's Outsized Role in America's Return to Space
Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT) has an initial contract to build three "Orion" crew capsules. And there's an additional request for three more at $900 million each.
The company expects that to bring in about $820 million in operational profit just on the Orion project. Next year, Artemis 1 will orbit the Earth and then send an unmanned Orion on a journey around the moon and back.
In 2023, Artemis 2 will do the same with a crew. The 21-day mission will test life support functions and other systems for the astronauts.
And in 2024, Artemis 3 is scheduled to land astronauts on the moon for the first time since 1972. There are eight Artemis missions planned through 2028 - that's a new Orion every time.
Artemis and planned missions to Mars are more proof that Lockheed Martin remains a powerful player in the aerospace and defense sector and will keep that top spot for years to come.
Lockheed Martin is the largest defense contractor in the world, so big thinking and big projects are just another day at the office for this firm. It builds state-of-the-art Littoral Combat Ships with screw-less propulsion systems.
It has a new helicopter system that can operate tactically and be used as a transport workhorse. It builds next-generation F-16, F-22, and F-35 fighters as well as a number of other key aircraft.
And that doesn't even touch on all its systems and platforms to support all of these programs. Lockheed is building "Networked Battlefield" capabilities, not to mention intelligence and surveillance work.
So, it makes perfect sense that when NASA decided to go back to the moon and the administration looked toward the stars, the first company it wanted on board was Lockheed Martin.
Beyond Orion and Gateway, Lockheed is working on a lunar lander that'll provide payload delivery service right to the moon's surface.
Lockheed already has big plans for the Red Planet, as well. It's a simple concept: Transport astronauts from Earth, via the moon, to a Mars-orbiting science laboratory where the crew can study the planet and determine the most favorable location to land humans on the surface, all by about the 2030s.
On its "Mars Base Camp" web page, you can take a look at its stunning ideas for a three-year journey to Mars to establish a human presence there, all with technologies it's working on right now for Artemis, like Orion. Lockheed discusses new technologies it's working on, too, like solar-electric propulsion.
LMT's Performance Is Thrilling, Too
I can't think of another publicly traded company that's in as strong a position to profit on America's space ambitions as Lockheed.
The company is nothing short of a profit powerhouse. Over the last three years, it has grown per-share earnings by an average 23%, meaning they double roughly every 3.2 years.
Over the past five years - and, to be sure, that includes today's bear market - the stock is up nearly 106%. By contrast, the bellwether S&P 500 is up a more modest 39.5%.
Lockheed is landing scores of huge projects in space exploration, satellite technology, and defense, just to name a few.
It sports a respectable - and sustainable - 2.5% dividend, to boot - in a zero-rate environment, no less.
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The 88 most populous cities across the United States are now seeing their Internet speeds tumble by 44% (and this could just be the start).
That's why the FCC had to step in - and its $10 billion initiative could translate to a huge payout because of it. Click here to check out our research...
About the Author
Michael A. Robinson is a 36-year Silicon Valley veteran and one of the top tech and biotech financial analysts working today. That's because, as a consultant, senior adviser, and board member for Silicon Valley venture capital firms, Michael enjoys privileged access to pioneering CEOs, scientists, and high-profile players. And he brings this entire world of Silicon Valley "insiders" right to you...
- He was one of five people involved in early meetings for the $160 billion "cloud" computing phenomenon.
- He was there as Lee Iacocca and Roger Smith, the CEOs of Chrysler and GM, led the robotics revolution that saved the U.S. automotive industry.
- As cyber-security was becoming a focus of national security, Michael was with Dave DeWalt, the CEO of McAfee, right before Intel acquired his company for $7.8 billion.
This all means the entire world is constantly seeking Michael's insight.
In addition to being a regular guest and panelist on CNBC and Fox Business, he is also a Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer and reporter. His first book Overdrawn: The Bailout of American Savings warned people about the coming financial collapse - years before the word "bailout" became a household word.
Silicon Valley defense publications vie for his analysis. He's worked for Defense Media Network and Signal Magazine, as well as The New York Times, American Enterprise, and The Wall Street Journal.
And even with decades of experience, Michael believes there has never been a moment in time quite like this.
Right now, medical breakthroughs that once took years to develop are moving at a record speed. And that means we are going to see highly lucrative biotech investment opportunities come in fast and furious.
To help you navigate the historic opportunity in biotech, Michael launched the Bio-Tech Profit Alliance.
His other publications include: Strategic Tech Investor, The Nova-X Report, Bio-Technology Profit Alliance and Nexus-9 Network.