WASHINGTON-A Nasa facility in Alabama that developed the giant rocket for the Apollo programme in the 1960s will play a key role in sending astronauts down to the Moon’s surface in 2024.

The Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville will lead the development of a vehicle that will land astronauts on the body for the first time since 1972.

The decision was announced by Nasa’s administrator Jim Bridenstine.

But it’s a disappointment for Texas, which was in the running.

The White House wants to send a man and a woman to the South Pole of the Moon in five years, under a programme called Artemis.

Huntsville in northern Alabama is known as “Rocket City”, because of its long association with the space programme. It was here that the huge Saturn V launcher, which lofted humans into orbit during the Apollo programme in the 1960s and 70s, was designed, built and tested.

Bridenstine made the announcement at the Marshall facility in front of a test version of the 45m- (149ft-) tall hydrogen tank for the Space Launch System rocket, which will launch the astronauts on their journey from Earth in 2024.

“This was not a decision that was made lightly. A lot of hard work has been done here in Huntsville over well over 10 years now regarding landing systems,” Mr Bridenstine said on Friday.

But not everyone will be happy about the decision. Before the formal announcement, Texas legislators including Senator Ted Cruz had written an open letter to Mr Bridenstine pushing for Nasa’s Johnson Space Center, based in Houston, Texas, to lead the lander development.

Responding to a report that Marshall would be announced as the lead, the lawmakers said: “While the Marshall Space Flight Center specialises in rocketry and spacecraft propulsion, and is undoubtedly the leader in these areas, it is the Johnson Space Center, which has been, and continues to be, ground zero for human space exploration.

“We are deeply concerned that Nasa is not only disregarding this history but that splitting up the work on the lander between two different geographic locations is an unnecessary and a counterproductive departure from the unquestionable success of the previous lunar lander programme.”