NASA names crew for first human mission to the moon in more than 50 years

NASA astronauts Christina Koch (left), Victor Glover (top), Reid Wiseman (bottom), and Jeremy Hansen (right) pose for an Artemis 2 crew portrait in training versions of the Orion launch and enter pressure suits. Credit: NASA

NASA announced Monday that former U.S. Navy fighter pilots Reid Wiseman and Victor Glover, veteran space station astronaut Christina Koch, and rookie Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen will crew the Artemis 2 mission to fly around the far side of the moon as soon as late next year, a test flight that could carry the foursome farther from Earth than any humans in history.

The approximately 10-day Artemis 2 mission will loop around the far side of the moon after blasting off on NASA’s Space Launch System moon rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida no earlier than November 2024, then return to Earth for splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

NASA unveiled the Artemis 2 crew members Monday in a ceremony at Ellington Field in Houston, a few miles from the NASA astronaut training base at Johnson Space Center. Artemis 2 will be the first piloted flight of NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to land astronauts on the lunar surface later this decade as a stepping stone before eventual human missions to Mars.

Under NASA’s Artemis architecture, astronauts on moon landing missions will take off from Earth atop NASA’s SLS heavy-lift rocket, fly to the moon’s vicinity in an Orion capsule, then link up with a human-rated lander for the trip to and from the lunar surface. The astronauts will then return to Earth in the Orion spacecraft.

Before attempting a lunar landing, NASA will send an Orion spacecraft with four astronauts on a voyage around the far side of the moon on Artemis 2. The crew announcement Monday had the feel of a celebration, with a crowd of Texas politicians, NASA employees, and international news media gathered in a hangar at Ellington Field.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson unveiled the names of the Artemis 2 crew members one by one as the astronauts took the stage.

“After all of that, I feel like Denzel Washington should be up here talking to you,” Glover joked. “This is a big day, we have a lot to celebrate, and it’s so much more than the four names that were announced.

“We need to celebrate this moment in human history because Artemis 2 is more than a mission to the moon and back,” Glover said. “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 that gets humanity to Mars.”

Wiseman, 47, will command the Artemis 2 mission. He is the former chief of NASA’s astronaut corps and a veteran of more than 500 aircraft carrier landings in his Navy career, when he flew F-14 and F/A-18 fighter jets on multiple combat deployments and graduated from U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. After joining NASA as an astronaut in 2009, Wiseman flew to the International Space Station as a flight engineer on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2014, logging 165 days in orbit and venturing outside the complex for two spacewalks.

Now a Navy captain, Wiseman will lead the four-person crew that will make the first journey to the vicinity of the moon since the last Apollo mission in 1972. Wiseman has two daughters, is a native of Baltimore, and earned engineering degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Johns Hopkins University.

Victor Glover will serve as pilot on Artemis 2. Like Wiseman, the 46-year-old is a Navy captain and former F/A-18 fighter pilot and test pilot. Glover, a father of four daughters, served as a legislative fellow on the staff of late Arizona Sen. John McCain before his selection as a NASA astronaut in 2013.

The 10-day Artemis 2 mission will carry four astronauts beyond the far side of the moon, after initial checkouts of their Orion spacecraft in Earth orbit. Credit: NASA

Born and raised in Pomona, California, Glover was a college wrestler and football player at Cal Poly before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in engineering. He later earned three master’s degrees from military schools, flew 24 Navy combat missions, and made more than 400 aircraft carrier landings.

On his first spaceflight, Glover became the first Black astronaut to live and work on the International Space Station for a long-duration expedition. He was pilot of NASA’s Crew-1 mission, the first operational flight of a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft that launched in November 2020 and completed more than 167 days in orbit before returning to Earth in May 2021.

NASA astronaut Christina Koch and Canadian Space Agency astronaut Jeremy Hansen round out the Artemis 2 crew.

Koch, 44, holds the record for the longest spaceflight by a woman, a 328-day expedition on the International Space Station in 2019 and 2020 that included the first all-female spacewalk with crewmate Jessica Meir. She accomplished six spacewalks totaling more than 42 hours on her record-setting mission, the second-most spacewalking time by anyone on a single spaceflight.

Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and raised in Jacksonville, North Carolina, Koch graduated from North Carolina State University with two bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering and physics, and a master’s degree in electrical engineering. She served as a research scientist on multiple tours at research stations in Antarctica, worked as an engineer on several NASA robotic science missions, and as a station chief for NOAA in American Samoa.

Koch will become the first woman to travel into deep space after the 24 men who flew on moon missions in the Apollo program.

Hansen, a captain in the Royal Canadian Air Force, will also make history as the first non-American to fly to the moon. The 47-year-old has waited 13 years for a spaceflight assignment after becoming a Canadian Space Agency astronaut in 2009.

Born in London, Ontario, and raised on a farm in a nearby small town, Hansen earned a bachelor’s degree in space science and a master’s degree in physics from Royal Military College of Canada, with a research focus in wide field of view satellite tracking. He is a father of three, and was a CF-18 fighter pilot before becoming an astronaut.

Hansen cited Canada’s “can-do” spirit and American leadership as the reasons a Canadian astronaut will become the first non-American to travel around the moon.

“It is not lost on any of us that the United States could choose to go back to the moon by itself,” Hansen said. “But America has made a very deliberate choice over decades to curate a global team.”

President Joe Biden mentioned the Artemis 2 crew announcement March 24 in a speech to the Canadian Parliament.

“We choose to return to the moon together,” Biden said. “And from there, we look forward to Mars and to the endless possibilities that lie beyond. And here on Earth, our children who watch that flight are going to learn the names of those pioneers. They will be the ones to carry us into the future we hope to build, the Artemis generation.”

A camera on-board NASA’s Orion Spacecraft captured this view of a crescent Earth beyond the lunar horizon on Dec. 5, 2022, when it completed a return flyby of the moon in the final days of the unpiloted Artemis 1 mission. Credit: NASA

NASA and the Canadian Space Agency reached an agreement in December 2020 to put a Canadian astronaut on the Artemis 2 mission, in exchange for Canada’s contribution of a robotic arm called Canadarm 3 to the Gateway space station to be assembled in orbit around the moon.

Canada also secured a spot for a Canadian astronaut on a future mission to the Gateway mini-space station, a complex about one-sixth the size of the International Space Station currently orbiting Earth. The Gateway will serve as a waypoint, spacecraft refueling station, and deep space research outpost near the moon where astronauts will conduct scientific experiments, technology demonstrations, and pass through on flights between Earth and the lunar surface.

The Artemis 2 mission follows the successful Artemis 1 test flight, which took off from Florida on Nov. 16 with the first launch of NASA’s SLS moon rocket. Artemis 1 was the first time an Orion crew capsule, without astronauts aboard, reached deep space. The Orion spacecraft entered a distant retrograde orbit around the moon, completing two close lunar flybys before returning to Earth for splashdown Dec. 11 after 25-and-a-half days in space.

On the Artemis 2 mission, the SLS moon rocket will fly in the same “Block 1” configuration successfully demonstrated on the Artemis 1 launch in November. The rocket will be powered by four space shuttle-era main engines and two solid rocket boosters, generating 8.8 million pounds thrust to begin the astronauts’ voyage to the moon.

The Space Launch System’s cryogenic upper stage will first place the Orion moon capsule into a preliminary orbit ranging 1,800 miles (2,900 kilometers) above Earth, according to NASA.

Another burn by the upper stage engine will boost the Orion spacecraft into a higher orbit stretching some 46,000 miles (74,000 kilometers) from Earth, an elliptical loop higher than geostationary communications satellites and the GPS navigation network. In that orbit, the Orion spacecraft will separate from the SLS rocket’s upper stage and will take about 23-and-a-half hours to complete one lap around the planet.

During their time in the high Earth orbit, the Artemis 2 astronauts will take off their protective pressure suits worn during launch and change into more comfortable clothing, then complete a series of checkouts of spacecraft systems. Wiseman and Glover will test out the ship’s rendezvous and docking systems by taking manual control to re-approach and then back away from the spent cryogenic upper stage of the SLS moon rocket. The proximity operations demonstration will test the Orion spacecraft’s handling qualities during rendezvous and docking maneuvers that will be required on future Artemis moon missions.

The Orion crew capsule set to fly the Artemis 2 mission is being assembled by Lockheed Martin at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Unlike the Orion flown on Artemis 1, the next spacecraft in line will debut a complete environmental control and life support system, crew seats for four crew members, and cockpit controls and displays.

NASA managers want to verify the life support systems needed to generate breathable air and remote carbon dioxide and water vapor from the spacecraft’s internal atmosphere all function as designed before sending the astronauts to the moon. The day-long high Earth orbit will allow engineers to evaluate how the life support system works when the crew members exercise and sleep, assessing the system’s performance during high and low metabolic rates for the astronauts.

Ground teams will also confirm they can communicate with the Orion spacecraft and the Artemis 2 crew through the Deep Space Network, a set of antennas at sites in California, Spain, and Australia usually tasked with contacting robotic probes exploring other planets.

Human spaceflight missions in low Earth orbit, such as the International Space Station, typically communicate with ground controllers through NASA’s fleet of Tracking and Data Relay Satellites. But the Artemis 2 mission will fly well beyond the TDRS fleet in geostationary orbit.

“We’re going to hear the words ‘go for launch’ on top of the most powerful rocket NASA’s ever made, the Space Launch System, and we’re going to ride that rocket for eight minutes into Earth orbit,” Koch said. “We’re not going to the moon right away. We’re going to stay in this amazing high orbit reaching a peak of tens of thousands of miles while we test out all the systems on Orion and see how it maneuvers in space.”

Once mission control and the Artemis 2 crew finish their testing in Earth orbit, the Orion spacecraft’s service module engine will ignite to propel the capsule and its four-person crew toward the moon a quarter-million miles from Earth.

The Artemis 2 mission will follow a “hybrid free return trajectory” around the moon, with an outbound trip lasting about four days. The Orion crew capsule won’t enter orbit around the moon, but will instead loop around the far side of the moon and use the influence of gravity to return directly to Earth for splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, similar to the trajectory the Apollo 13 astronauts flew after an explosion on their spacecraft forced them to cancel a planned lunar landing.

The Orion spacecraft will arc out to a distance of 6,400 miles (10,300 kilometers) beyond the far side of the moon. Depending on where the moon is in its orbit when Artemis 2 flies, the four-person crew could break the record for the farthest humans have traveled from Earth, beating the distance of the Apollo 13 mission.

“It will be a four-day journey going a quarter of million miles, continuing to test out every bit of Orion going around the far side of the moon, heading home, going through the Earth’s atmosphere at over 25,000 mph and splashing down in the Pacific. So am I excited? Absolutely,” Koch said.

NASA says the Artemis 2 mission will pave the way for future landing expeditions and longer-duration flights to the Gateway space station. NASA hasn’t confirmed flight opportunities for Japan and the European Space Agency, the other major partners in the Artemis program. But astronauts from both partners are expected to fly to the moon in the Artemis program.

The Artemis program’s first attempt to land the first woman and next man on the moon is penciled in for the Artemis 3 mission, using a derivative of the Starship vehicle SpaceX is developing in South Texas as a human-rated lander to ferry two astronauts between the Orion spacecraft in lunar orbit and the south pole of the moon. That flight is scheduled for 2025, at the earliest, but NASA’s inspector general has reported the Starship lander and new moon-ready spacesuits likely won’t be ready until 2026 or later.

ESA supplies the service modules for Orion missions, and is developing a refueling and communications module for the Gateway station. Japan is helping work on an international habitation module, along with ESA, and could send resupply ships to the Gateway complex.

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