HOUSTON – For the first time in half a century, NASA has named a team of astronauts to go to the moon.
They were Reid Wiseman, commander of the mission; Victor Glover, pilot; Christina Koch, Mission Specialist; And, Jeremy Hansen, also a career expert. The first three are NASA astronauts, Mr. Hansen is a member of the Canadian Space Agency.
“So I’m excited?” Ms Koch said during a staff release event at Ellington Field, a small airport used by NASA to train astronauts. “Of course. But my real question is: Are you excited?
The crowd cheered in response.
A major step in NASA’s Artemis program, sending astronauts back to the moon’s surface to explore the cold regions near the moon’s south pole, where water ice can be found in deep, dark craters. From the experience on the moon, NASA hopes to chart a path to put humans on Mars, while scientists hope to use what they find there to answer questions about how the solar system formed.
“Together, we’re going — to the moon, to Mars and beyond,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
But the four astronauts on this next mission, Artemis II, will not land on the moon.
Instead, passengers will embark on a 10-day journey that will circle the moon and return to Earth. It is currently scheduled for late next year and will be the first time humans have traveled more than a few hundred miles from the planet since the return of NASA’s last lunar mission, Apollo 17, in 1972.
“It’s an amazing time for the Artemis people, there’s no question about that,” Harrison Schmidt, the last surviving astronaut from Apollo 17, said in an interview. “A lot of people don’t fully realize that we’re three generations away from any human experience in deep space, and that’s the most important part of the mission,” he said.
Dr. Schmidt, who is also a former US senator, said he should not be surprised that it has taken so long. “I would say I’m disappointed,” he said. “A lot of things conspired to stop the Apollo program and keep us from going back for a while.”
Astronauts in 2023 are very different from the era of the Moon Race. During the Apollo program, 24 astronauts flew to the moon, 12 of whom set foot on the surface. They are all Americans. They were all white, many of them test pilots.
At this point, the astronaut team represents a broader segment of society.
During the event, Mr. Wiseman said commanding an international, diverse crew was “awesome.”
Mr. Glover was the commander of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon’s first operational mission to the International Station and the first black man to serve as a crew member on the orbital outpost.
The first woman to cross Earth’s low orbit, Mrs. Koch, and as a Canadian Mr. Hansen was the first non-American to travel that distance.
Instead of forming an international collaboration with Canada and the European Space Agency, Mr. Hansen noted. That deal reserved a spot for a Canadian astronaut on Artemis II.
“All of Canada is grateful for the Global Mindset and that leadership,” said Mr. Hanson said.
Mr. Wiseman said he wanted moon missions “to unite our country, to unite the world.
As the mission name suggests, Artemis II will be the second in NASA’s Artemis program. Artemis I launched last November as a test of the Space Launch System, NASA’s giant new rocket, and the Orion astronaut capsule. The Orion spacecraft spent two weeks orbiting the moon before returning to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific.
After several years of delays — building the rocket took longer than originally promised — the Artemis I mission progressed smoothly for the most part, despite a few hiccups. Orion’s heat shield protected the spacecraft during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, but it blew out more than expected.
Artemis II, with four astronauts, will allow Orion’s life support systems to be fully checked. NASA officials will be more confident of carrying out the longer, more complex Artemis III mission, in which two astronauts will land near the South Pole.
NASA is currently aiming for that first moon landing in late 2025, but the NASA inspector general predicts the mission could slip to 2026 or later. The Artemis III mission will use Starship — a giant spacecraft built by Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX — to carry two astronauts from distant lunar orbit to the surface. Starship’s first test launch into space could begin in the coming weeks.
In the 1960s, the space race mirrored the geopolitical flow between the United States and the Soviet Union. This time also has some geopolitical resonance. China also plans to send astronauts to the moon in the coming years.
But now governments are not only targeting the moon.
Yusaku Maesawa, a Japanese billionaire, has bought a trip on a starship that will orbit the moon, similar to the path of Artemis II. Dennis Tito, the first space tourist to visit the International Space Station in 2001, and his wife, Akiko, have reserved seats on a solo Starship trip around the moon.
Five decades ago, it would have been like a billionaire buying a Saturn V, the rocket that sent the Apollo astronauts to the moon.
Today, it seems almost inevitable that tourist footprints will cross the lunar surface for years to come.
In an interview, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who retired in 2013 after three space missions, compared space travel to the early days of flight. A wobbly craft built by the Wright brothers in 1903, but rarely flown. But progress was rapid. The first flight for the Dutch airline KLM was in 1920.
“Seventeen years on from the Wright brothers it’s still a profitable airline,” said Mr. Hadfield said.
He added that the innovation has greatly reduced the cost of leaving Earth.
“You’re going to see the price come down as the vehicles prove better, and that’s going to increase access and opportunity,” Mr. Hadfield said.
For the Artemis II astronauts, Dr. Schmidt had some simple advice: “Enjoy it,” he said.
Vjosa music And Jesus Jimenez Contributed report.