NASA reveals Artemis II crew, the first moon astronauts in 50 years

The announcement marks a milestone for the program, which aims to return humans to the moon—as a stepping stone for Mars.

By Michael Greshko
Published 3 Apr 2023, 18:39 BST
In late 2024, four astronauts will launch atop NASA’s Space Launch System rocket—seen here during a November test flight—for Artemis II, a 10-day flyby mission around the moon. NASA’s naming of the Artemis II crew marks the first lunar crew announcement in more than 50 years.
Photograph by Dan Winters, National Geographic

NASA has selected the four astronauts who, for the first time in five decades, will embark on a journey that only 24 people have ever undertaken—around the moon and back to Earth. The U.S. space agency’s new lunar mission, called Artemis II, will have a crew that includes the first woman, the first Black person, and the first non-American to ever leave low-Earth orbit.

As soon as November 2024, NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, and Christina Koch, and Jeremy Hansen from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) will launch on their 10-day mission. The crew, which includes three pilots and an engineer, has been charged with testing NASA’s newest lunar spacecraft, called Orion, on its first crewed flight.

“We are going to carry your excitement, your aspirations, your dreams with us on this mission, Artemis II: your mission,” Koch said at the announcement event at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas.

During his 2014 mission aboard the International Space Station, Artemis II commander Reid Wiseman logged almost 13 hours of spacewalks.
Photograph by Alex Gerst, NASA

Artemis II will trace a similar path to 1968’s Apollo 8 mission, the first-ever human flight to the moon. After launch, the astronauts will soar nearly a quarter of a million miles from Earth, around the moon, and back along a figure-eight path. Their trek will help NASA prepare for Artemis III, a crewed mission to the moon’s surface launching no sooner than late 2025.

“We are here today with a mission to introduce the world to the crew of Artemis II: four names, four explorers, four of my friends answering the call to once more rocket away from Earth and chart a course around the moon,” NASA chief astronaut Joe Acabá, who helped select the crew, said at the announcement. “This flight will be challenging, but we face that challenge with the confidence that the people working beside us are up to the task.”

Today’s announcement marks another milestone for NASA’s Artemis moon program, which aims to put the first woman and first person of colour on the surface and build up a lunar presence as a proving ground for Mars. Overcoming delays, technical snafus, and cost overruns, Artemis notched a major achievement with last November’s launch of Artemis I: a pivotal uncrewed test flight. The Artemis II crew will be the first humans to fly aboard NASA’s 322-foot-tall Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft.

Though siblings in Greek mythology, Apollo and Artemis differ considerably as lunar programs. Apollo sprang from geopolitical competition, the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. The race ended with Apollo 11, and lunar flights ceased less than four years later.

With Artemis, NASA is instead pursuing a long-term goal: venturing beyond Earth to stay. Unlike Apollo, which targeted the moon’s equatorial region, Artemis aims to explore the south pole, where permanently shadowed areas hold deposits of lunar soil rich in water ice. Future missions could harvest this resource to produce water, oxygen, and rocket fuel.

In August before the launch of Artemis I, the uncrewed test flight of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, astronauts and astronaut candidates from the U.S. and Canada gathered in front of the launchpad. Unlike Apollo, Artemis will fly non-American astronauts.
Photograph by Kim Shiflett, NASA

Artemis also seeks to send a more diverse group of human explorers to the moon. The Apollo astronauts were all white American men, mostly military test pilots. The astronauts eligible for Artemis missions, by contrast, represent a broader spectrum of gender, racial, and professional diversity.

To foster continuous exploration beyond Earth, the U.S. space agency is collaborating with other countries and relying on private industry. Key pieces of hardware—including Orion’s service module, which houses its main engine and solar arrays—come from international partners, including Europe, Canada, and Japan. NASA has also courted private companies to ferry equipment, science instruments, and even its astronauts to the lunar surface.

“We choose to go back to the moon, and then on to Mars, and we’re going to do it together,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson.

Blue flight suits

The four Artemis II astronauts who will climb into the Orion capsule each bring years of experience to their roles and highlight the diversity of today’s astronaut corps.

Mission commander Reid Wiseman, 47, is a captain in the U.S. Navy and an experienced test pilot on advanced aircraft, such as the F-35 Lightning II. In 2014 he flew a 165-day mission to the International Space Station and was NASA’s chief astronaut from December 2020 to November 2022. In that role, Wiseman selected crews for missions, but he couldn’t fly himself. He returned to active flight duty two days before Artemis I launched—in the nick of time for the Artemis II selection process.

Wiseman has said his astronaut “ambition was sealed” when he saw his first space shuttle launch in 2001 from the side of a road in Cocoa Beach, Florida. “There is nothing more exhilarating than watching the most complex machine on Earth accelerating downrange,” he said.

When asked to reflect on the risks of spaceflight in a 2014 NASA interview, he said, “there’s not even a question … Just to go out there and push humanity further than we’ve ever been—that’s a no brainer.”

Artemis II pilot Victor Glover spent 168 days in orbit during his mission to the International Space Station from November 2020 to May 2021, completing four spacewalks.
Photograph by NASA

The mission’s pilot Victor Glover, 46, is a test pilot who has flown state-of-the-art aircraft with the U.S. Navy for more than 21 years. When selected for the astronaut corps in 2013, the Pomona, California-native was serving as a legislative fellow in the U.S. Senate. Glover was the pilot and second-in-command on NASA and SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station. Glover spent 168 days in orbit on that mission, from November 2020 to May 2021.

“It’s so much more than the four names that have been announced—we need to celebrate this moment in human history,” Glover said at the announcement. “Artemis II is more than a mission to the moon and back. 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.”

During her record-setting 328-day mission aboard the International Space Station from March 2019 to February 2020, Artemis II mission specialist Christina Koch helped contribute to hundreds of onboard science experiments.
Photograph by NASA

Mission specialist Christina Koch, 44, is an electrical engineer by training who was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and grew up in Jacksonville, North Carolina. After a stint at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, she lived for a year at the U.S.’s South Pole research station. She went on to work at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, where she contributed to instruments on NASA’s Juno mission, and at scientific bases run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Jeremy Hansen, seen here in 2019 touring a Canadian Space Agency facility with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Trudeau’s daughter Ella Grace, will be the first non-American to fly beyond low-Earth orbit.
Photograph by Christinne Muschi, Reuters, Redux

From March 2019 to February 2020, Koch flew a 328-day mission aboard the International Space Station: currently the longest single spaceflight by a woman. In October 2019, Koch and fellow NASA astronaut Jessica Meir performed the first all-women spacewalks. Koch emphasised “how awesome it is that as a species, as humanity, we are undertaking this right now—that we have decided that it’s that important,” in a November interview with National Geographic.

In another first for human spaceflight, a non-American will fly beyond low-Earth orbit. The Canadian Space Agency will build an advanced robotic arm for a small space station called Gateway that will orbit the moon. In return, the U.S. agreed to fly a Canadian astronaut on Artemis II.

That seat and historic distinction will go to Artemis II mission specialist Jeremy Hansen, a member of NASA and CSA’s joint 2009 astronaut class. A colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces and a fighter pilot, Hansen, 47, is a leading member of the astronaut corps. He served in mission control for the International Space Station, and in 2017, he supervised a 13-member class of NASA and CSA astronaut candidates, the first Canadian to hold that role. But Hansen has never flown to space before, making Artemis II an especially significant mission to him.

“I can’t recall a period in my life when I didn’t want to be an astronaut,” Hansen said in a CSA video about his life. “For as long as I can remember, I was fascinated by space exploration. I looked at a photograph of Neil Armstrong standing on the moon, and I wanted to see what it would be like to leave this planet—to look at it from beyond.”

To the moon and back in a week and a half

These four astronauts will embark on a roughly 10-day mission around the moon and back to Earth. After launching atop the SLS rocket, more powerful than Apollo’s Saturn V, the crew will orbit Earth twice in the Orion spacecraft. Their first orbit will be a brisk 90 minutes; the second, a 42-hour-long ellipse, will take Orion from 200 miles above Earth to nearly 60,000 miles away.

During the second orbit, the crew will put Orion through its paces, approaching and backing away from SLS’s discarded upper stage to practice docking manoeuvres future missions will use. They’ll also check the life-support systems. Once Orion receives a clean bill of health, it will proceed toward the moon on a roughly four-day trek. When Orion sweeps around the moon’s far side, the crew will be about 4,600 miles above the lunar surface.

NASA astronauts Zena Cardman and Drew Feustel recently navigated through the San Francisco Volcanic Field north of Flagstaff, Arizona, as part of an elaborate simulation meant to prepare for future moonwalks.
Photograph by Dan Winters, National Geographic

The Artemis II crew will then have a four-day journey back to Earth. Like Apollo 8, this trip will be a “free-return” trajectory, meaning the spacecraft won’t need to ignite its engines. After a fiery descent through the atmosphere at nearly 25,000 miles an hour, Orion will splash down in the Pacific Ocean near the coasts of the U.S. and Mexico.

The crew’s week and a half aboard Orion will hardly be a pleasure cruise. Humans have never flown in Orion before, and the mission is designed to stretch the spacecraft’s capabilities. For instance, throughout the flight, the crew will perform exercise regimens to produce high amounts of CO2 and water vapour, testing Orion’s life-support systems.

The crew will be challenged in other ways, too. For one, maintaining a sleep schedule will require good window shades and willpower. Orion will be out of the sun’s glare only twice: during the first orbit around Earth and as the spacecraft passes behind the moon.

The Artemis II crew will also face a kind of isolation unseen in the 21st century—nearly a quarter million miles’ away from the rest of humankind. The crew’s rapport will be essential. At the same time, Artemis II will have extraordinary access to Earth compared to Apollo. Orion will be flying with a laser-based communication system that should give the spacecraft enough bandwidth to enable fast data speeds—possibly allowing real-time video calls.

This lunar flight is the next critical step, but far from the last, for Artemis. NASA currently has 41 astronauts eligible to fly lunar missions, with a new class in training, and it has sketched out plans through to at least Artemis VIII. The assignment of a crew to Artemis II makes NASA’s lunar undertaking all the more real, especially to the people kicking it off.

“We are at an exciting precipice of a new era,” Koch said.


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