NASA Names Crew for First Human Moon Mission Since Apollo in 1972

From a Washington Post story by Christian Davenport headlined “NASA names crew for first human moon mission since Apollo”:

For the first time since the Apollo era, NASA named a crew of astronauts for a lunar expedition.

The astronauts will fly around the moon in a mission that would precede the first human landing there since 1972.

NASA officials said astronauts Christina Koch, Victor Glover and Reid Wiseman will be joined by Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen on the Artemis II mission, which is scheduled to launch late next year.

The announcement comes about four months after the successful completion of the Artemis I flight, a test that for the first time launched the massive Space Launch System rocket and sent the Orion crew capsule, without any astronauts on board, in orbit around the moon.

With the naming of the crew, a diverse group that includes the first woman, African American and Canadian to fly on a moon mission, NASA’s Artemis campaign now has human faces attached to it — some of the best and brightest of the astronaut corps — which the space agency hopes will help solidify its support among members of Congress as it prepares for its next flights.

Those missions are months away, however, and likely to be delayed. And the attention of Congress and the American people is often fickle, especially when it comes to space exploration. Even during the height of the Apollo era, polling showed that people’s interest soon waned after the first lunar landing and that they wondered why money wasn’t being spent on projects back home.

But so far, NASA has, for the first time in decades, been able to build momentum for a deep-space exploration campaign. Last month, the White House proposed a $27.2 billion budget for NASA, a 7 percent increase over this year, with increased funding for Artemis. The Artemis program is also designed to be more politically resilient with the participation and investment of other countries, the growing commercial space industry, and more ambitious mission objectives.

The introductions came a few miles from the Johnson Space Center, in a hangar at Ellington Field, used for astronaut flight training. Many of the active astronauts were in attendance, save for the two currently on the International Space Station, as the names of the four crew members were called. Taking the stage to rousing cheers, they were lauded by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson as “the first humans to fly to the vicinity of the moon in more than 50 years.”

Unlike the Apollo missions, in which 12 men walked on the lunar surface and then came home, the Artemis program aims to build a more sustainable presence on and around the moon. It is planning to assemble a space station, known as Gateway, in lunar orbit that astronauts would visit on their way to the moon’s surface. Instead of returning to the moon’s equatorial region, NASA is now focused on the lunar south pole, where there is water in the form of ice in its permanently shadowed craters. Water is not only vital for human life, but its component parts — hydrogen and oxygen — can be used as rocket propellant.

As the United States prepares to return humans to the moon, Nelson has said the country is in a space race with China, which is also planning to send astronauts to the south pole. It has also been working to establish norms of behavior that would govern activities in space and on the moon by having allied nations sign an agreement known as the Artemis Accords.

As part of the Artemis program, NASA has said the first woman and the first person of color would walk on the moon as it seeks to create a more diverse astronaut corps. And the Artemis II crew embodied that diversity. “We’re not truly answering humanity’s call to explore unless we represent all of humanity,” Koch said in an interview. “And it’s awesome to be a part of this mission during a time when we recognize how important that is.”

Koch, who flew to the International Space Station in 2019 on a Russian Soyuz rocket, was part of the first all-female spacewalk. She also holds the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman with a total of 328 days in space. She began her career as an electrical engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

Glover is a Navy captain and a fighter jet test pilot, who flew on SpaceX’s first operational human spaceflight mission. He would serve as the Artemis II mission pilot. Wiseman, also a Navy captain, would be the commander. His previous spaceflight was in 2014 aboard a Russian Soyuz. Hansen was chosen as the first Canadian to lead a NASA astronaut class in 2017, but has not flown to space before.

“Each of these adventurers has their own story, but together they represent our creed: e pluribus unum, out of many one,” Nelson said in introducing the crew. “This is the power of space. This is the power of our space program. It unites people.”

Speaking to a cheering crowd, Glover said, “I 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 II mission would be somewhat similar to Apollo 8, in which Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders orbited the moon in 1968 before the Apollo 11 landing by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. The last of the Apollo missions was Apollo 17, and no people have been back to the vicinity of the moon since.

The Artemis II crew is to travel 6,400 miles beyond the far side of the moon in what is known as a “free-return trajectory,” where Earth’s gravity will pull Orion back after the spacecraft flies by the moon, NASA has said. Beyond the moon, the crew “will be able to see the Earth and the moon from Orion’s windows, with the moon close in the foreground and the Earth nearly a quarter-million miles in the background,” according to the space agency. The entire trip is expected to last about 10 days.

Glover said in an interview that the training for the mission should start this summer, and that it would take about 18 months. While the astronauts won’t land on the surface or dock with another spacecraft, they will test out Orion’s maneuvering capabilities, reorienting it once it separates from the second stage.

Asked whether he was disappointed that an assignment to Artemis II might preclude him from the next mission and a landing on the lunar surface, he said, “No. The best mission is the one in front of you.”

The astronauts here are also training on other new spacecraft. In addition to the Orion capsule, NASA flies crews to the International Space Station on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.

Boeing also has a contract to fly astronauts to the orbiting laboratory, but it recently said its first flight with astronauts would be delayed again, this time to July, as it continues to work with NASA to make sure its Starliner spacecraft meets all of NASA’s requirements.

SpaceX also won the contract to develop the spacecraft that would meet up with Orion in lunar orbit and then ferry astronauts to and from the surface of the moon for the Artemis III lunar landing flight. SpaceX is hoping to launch Starship, a fully reusable vehicle, for the first time later this month from its facility in South Texas.

Given the complexity of the new systems, the Artemis II flight could easily slip into 2025, and a human landing, tentatively scheduled for 2025, could also be delayed.

Christian Davenport covers NASA and the space industry for The Washington Post’s Financial desk. He joined The Post in 2000 and has served as an editor on the Metro desk and as a reporter covering military affairs. He is the author of “The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos”

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