In less than four years, NASA will send the "first woman and the next man" to the moon as part of the Artemis III mission. This is the first time since the last mission of the Apollo program, which was Apollo 17 in 1972, that astronauts have landed on the lunar surface. After careful review, NASA has announced the names of the 18 astronauts that make up the Artemis team.
The team was announced last Wednesday (December 16) during the eighth National Space Council (NSC) meeting at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During the meeting, Vice President Mike Pence introduced the NASA astronauts and noted the historical significance of their selection:
“I give you the heroes who will take us to the moon and beyond – the Artemis generation. It's amazing to think that the next man and woman on the moon are among the names we just read. The astronauts on the Artemis team are the future of American space exploration – and that future is very promising. "
The Artemis program will send the "first woman and the next man" to the moon by 2024. Photo credit: NASA
The Artemis project is the culmination of decades of hard work and dedication from countless NASA employees and trading partners. It all started in the mid-2000s with the Constellation Program, which eventually turned into NASA's "Journey to Mars". These plans were based on the creation of a new heavy-duty launch system and crew-enabled space capsule that would enable missions to the moon and other space destinations.
This led to the development of the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion space capsule. NASA has already flight-tested the Orion design and built the capsules used for the Artemis I and II missions (formerly known as Exploration Mission-1 and Mission -2). While the first mission will send an unscrewed Orion around the moon, the second will send astronauts on a moon flight.
The various components of the SLS are still being assembled, tested and integrated, and it remains unclear whether it will be ready in time for the first launch. Fortunately, in the event of further delays, NASA is ready to use a commercial launcher – such as SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, Blue Origins New Glenn, or the ULA's Vulcan Centaur.
The program also uses data collected through several robotic missions that have mapped the South Pole Aitken Basin and its abundant supply of water ice in greater detail. Beyond Artemis III, NASA plans to establish an outpost in the area (the Artemis Base Camp) by the end of the decade. In combination with the Artemis Gateway (also known as Lunar Gateway) in orbit, this infrastructure will enable a "program for sustainable lunar exploration".
Artist's impression of the SLS on its mobile launcher. Photo credit: NASA
Artemis team missions will be announced later, and additional team members (including astronauts from partner space agencies) will also join the group. This includes a Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut who will fly aboard the Artemis II mission on his bypass flight. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine was also there and had this to say about the team:
“We are incredibly grateful for the President and Vice Presidents' support for the Artemis program, as well as for bipartisan support for all of NASA's goals in science, aeronautics, technology development and human exploration. Because of this, we are excited to share with you this next step in exploration – naming the Artemis team of astronauts who will lead the way, including the first woman and next man to walk on the lunar surface. "
The Artemis I mission is currently planned for November 2021 and is expected to last 25 days. Artemis II, which at this point could include a deep-space rendezvous with another spaceship, is expected to last 10 days and is slated to launch by 2023. If everything goes according to plan, the first mission to the lunar surface since the Apollo era will take place in October 2024.
In the meantime, NASA continues to work with commercial partners to develop Human Landing Systems (HLS), a reusable lunar lander that allows astronauts to travel from the Orion capsule to and from the lunar surface. The Artemis III Science Definition Team also released its final report, setting out the objectives for the manned lunar mission and the larger program.
NASA published the Artemis Agreement back in May, which has since been signed by seven partner countries and their space agencies. And with the now announced members of the Artemis team, NASA can finally give a human face to the long-awaited return of mankind to the moon. As chief ronaut Pat Forrester said:
“There is so much exciting work ahead of us when we return to the moon and it will take the entire astronaut corps to get there. A walk on the lunar surface would be a dream come true for each of us, and every role we can play in it is an honor. I am proud of this special group of men and women, and I know that any one of them would do an excellent job representing NASA and the United States on a future Artemis mission. "
Before that decade is over, NASA and its partners will revive lunar exploration and establish a human presence on the moon. There are also other space agencies such as the Chinese National Space Agency (CNSA), Roscosmos and the European Space Agency (ESA), which sent astronauts to the moon for the first time.
Our long-awaited return to the moon will finally have happened. This time we will put down roots! To find out more about the people who will lead the way, read the entire Artemis team and their stories here!
Further reading: NASA