Layoffs and stalled projects plagued space start-up Moon Express. Then NASA stepped in.

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    The call came in the middle of a hectic week, between flights to Canada and meetings. It had been a fraught year defined by setbacks.

    “How are you doing today?” said one of the voices on the phone from NASA’s Office of Procurement. These were the people who called if you were just about to win — or lose — a coveted NASA contract.