The United States space agency (NASA) has unveiled the four-member crew for its upcoming mission around the moon, a team that includes the first woman, the first person of colour and the first Canadian assigned to a lunar mission.
At a ceremony on Monday in Houston, Texas, NASA announced that Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, Christina Hammock Koch and Jeremy Hansen would crew the Artemis II mission for a 10-day flight, marking the agency’s first manned moon voyage in over half a century.
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“For the first time in more than 50 years, these individuals — the Artemis II crew — will be the first humans to fly to the vicinity of the Moon,” Vanessa Wyche, director of the Johnson Space Center, said in a statement.
The launch, scheduled for 2024, will be only the second in the Artemis programme, a multinational initiative to establish a “long-term presence at the moon”. The last time a manned crew approached the moon was in 1972, as part of NASA’s Apollo programme.
“This mission paves the way for the expansion of human deep space exploration and presents new opportunities for scientific discoveries, commercial, industry and academic partnerships,” Wyche said.
She called the crew “the best of humanity”. They include three veterans of space travel from the US: Wisemen, Glover and Koch. All three will be making their second trip into space with the Artemis flight.
Koch has previously made headlines for notching several “firsts” in space. As a flight engineer, she holds the record for the longest single spaceflight conducted by a woman, and she participated in the first all-female spacewalks.
Glover, meanwhile, is set to become the first person of colour to participate in a moon voyage. A former legislative fellow in the US Senate, he recently piloted 2021’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission, serving as second in command on the flight.
The third American, Wiseman, has served as flight engineer on the International Space Station, spending 165 days in orbit and logging nearly 13 hours as a lead spacewalker.
The Americans are joined by the first Canadian astronaut to join a lunar flight, Jeremy Hansen. The Ontario-born former fighter pilot will be making his first trip into space, after a career that includes time as a colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces.
In a speech at Monday’s announcement, Hansen praised “Canada’s can-do attitude” for allowing him to join the mission, as well as the “passion to collaborate” across borders.
“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 decades to curate a global team, and that, in my definition, is true leadership,” he said.
The four-member team is expected to travel more than 2.2 million kilometres (1.4 million miles) as they loop around the moon, marking the closest lunar approach since the Apollo 17 mission.
The US crew members were chosen from a pool of 41 active astronauts, while Canada initially nominated four candidates. In the wake of Monday’s announcement, US President Joe Biden called the astronauts to congratulate them and thank them for their service.
While their voyage will not include a moon walk, the Artemis II trip will take them 370,000km (230,000 miles) beyond the Earth’s surface, a significant departure from recent decades, when NASA had focused on manned exploration in low-Earth orbit.
The International Space Station, by comparison, is only 420km (260 miles) above the Earth’s surface.
While in space, the four astronauts will demonstrate manoeuvres and test the life-support systems aboard the partially reusable Orion spacecraft, a capsule designed for manned flight.
If their mission proves successful, NASA plans to launch a third Artemis flight, which is slated to include a landing on the moon’s surface.
That Artemis III mission is also expected to carry a female astronaut and an astronaut of colour. Previously, all 12 members of the Apollo programme to set foot on the moon were white men.
Glover spoke to questions of unity and division in his remarks in Houston on Monday. “I pray that God will bless this mission,” the Artemis II crew member said. “But I also pray that we can continue to serve as a source of inspiration for cooperation and peace not just between nations but in our own nation.”
The Artemis programme is a joint initiative between American, Canadian, Japanese and European aerospace agencies.
Like the first Artemis mission, the manned crew announced on Monday will take off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the US.
NASA said the lessons of the upcoming Artemis flights would help the agency prepare for its “next giant leap: sending the first astronauts to Mars”.
“The Artemis II crew represents thousands of people working tirelessly to bring us to the stars,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, a former astronaut and senator, said in the agency’s statement.
“Together, we are ushering in a new era of exploration for a new generation of star sailors and dreams — the Artemis Generation.”