On Monday, NASA unveiled the first crew of astronauts that will travel to the moon since 1972. Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, and Christina Koch of NASA will travel together with Jeremy Hansen of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) on a trip around the moon, potentially reaching the farthest point any human has flown into space.
As part of a mission called Artemis II, the quartet of astronauts will follow a similar path in their Orion spacecraft that an unoccupied capsule took last fall when Orion and NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) blasted off on an inaugural test flight.
The mission will last approximately 10 days, during which the crew will not land on the moon, but instead follow a trajectory that allows Orion and its European-built service module to conduct multiple maneuvers that will raise and lower its orbit throughout the mission, with the craft ultimately relying on Earth’s gravity to pull the astronauts home after they fly around the moon.
The launch is targeted for late 2024, with Wiseman serving as the mission’s commander, Glover the pilot, and Koch and Hansen as mission specialists. This mission will also mark the first time that a Canadian has ventured to the moon and back.
“Reid, Victor, Christina, and Jeremy, each of these adventurers has their own story. But together, they represent our creed: E pluribus unum — out of many, one,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said. “Together, we will usher in a new era of exploration for a new generation of star sailors and dreamers — the Artemis Generation.”
The flight will mark the first time that both the SLS and the Orion spacecraft will fly a crew. As such, this is a precursor to Artemis III and Artemis IV, which will culminate with astronauts walking on the lunar surface sometime this decade. But before they can do that, the crew of Artemis II has to put the vehicles through their paces and ensure that Orion can safely transport crew to the moon and back.
During its test flight in 2022, both the SLS and the Orion capsule performed as expected. NASA praised its newest rocket system for checking off its intended tasks in record time and even added some secondary objectives while the craft was still in lunar orbit.
The Artemis II crew will fly within 6,479 miles of the lunar surface and travel more than 6,000 miles beyond the far side of the moon. This will mark the farthest any human has traveled in space. While on their journey, the crew will manually pilot the Orion spacecraft and enjoy what promises to be stunning views of the Earth and the moon from the windows of Orion.
After the mission’s objectives are carried out, which include testing the life support, communications and navigations systems while in lunar orbit, the mission will end with Orion splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. This will ensure future crews have the ability to communicate and navigate home.
A successful Artemis II mission will set the stage for the first mission in more than 50 years to return humans to the moon.
The crews for those two missions have yet to be announced, but now that the Artemis II astronauts have been selected, the crews can start training.
The Artemis II astronauts were selected out of NASA’s corps of 41 active astronauts. All three members from NASA have flown in space before, with Wiseman being the most experienced. In fact, he stepped down as the head of the astronaut office last year with many speculating as a sign he wanted to be on this very mission.
“There are three words that we keep saying in the Artemis program and they are, ‘We are going.’ And I want everyone to say them,” Wiseman said during the announcement.
Both Glover and Koch each have one spaceflight under their belts, with Koch having completed an extended mission in space — 328 days, the most for a female astronaut — during which she was part of the first all-female spacewalk. Glover flew in 2021 as part of SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station.
“We have a lot to celebrate and it’s so much more than the four names that have been announced,” Glover said. “We need to celebrate this moment in human history because Artemis II is more than a mission to the moon and it’s more than a mission that has to happen before we send people to the surface of the moon. It is the next step on the journey that gets humanity to Mars.”
“Human spaceflight is like a relay race and the baton has been passed generation to generation and from crew member to crew member, from the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz, Mir, space shuttle, International Space Station, commercial crew and and now the Artemis missions. And we understand our role in that. When we have the privilege of having that baton, we are going to do our best to run a good race to make you proud,” he said.
When Hansen straps into the Orion spacecraft, it will be his first space flight. His seat is part of an agreement between the U.S. and Canada, where Canada will provide and operate a robotic arm as part of the lunar gateway — a mini space station in lunar orbit.
“There are two reasons why a Canadian is going to the moon that makes me smile,” said Hansen. “The first one is American leadership. It is not lost on any of us that the United States could choose to go back to the moon by themselves. But America has made a very deliberate choice over the decades to curate a global team and that in my definition is true leadership.”
“The second reason is Canada’s can-do attitude,” he said.
The announcement was made at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where Vanessa Wyche, the center’s director, kicked off the announcement. The details of the selection process were not revealed, but according to Wyche, “they all have the right stuff” and are all “the best of humanity.”