By Steve Gorman
NASA on Monday named the first woman and the first African American ever assigned as astronauts to a lunar mission, introducing them as part of the four-member team chosen to fly on what would be the first crewed voyage around the moon in more than 50 years.
Christina Koch, an engineer who already holds the record for the longest continuous spaceflight by a woman and was part of NASA’s first three all-female spacewalks, was named as a mission specialist for the Artemis II lunar flyby expected as early as next year.
She will be joined by Victor Glover, a U.S. Navy aviator and veteran of four spacewalks who NASA has designated as pilot of Artemis II. He will be the first Black astronaut ever to be sent on a lunar mission.
Rounding out the four-member crew are Jeremy Hansen, a Royal Canadian Air Force colonel and first Canadian ever chosen for a flight to the moon, as a mission specialist, and Reid Wiseman, another former U.S. Navy fighter pilot, named as Artemis II mission commander.
All three NASA astronauts chosen for the Artemis II mission are veterans of previous expeditions aboard the International Space Station. Hansen is a spaceflight rookie.
The Artemis II quartet were introduced at a pep rally-like event attended by journalists, local elementary school students and space industry leaders, televised from Houston at the Johnson Space Center, NASA’s mission control base.
“The Artemis II crew represents thousands of people working tirelessly to bring us to the stars,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said on stage. “This is humanity’s crew.”
Artemis II will mark the debut crewed flight – but not the first lunar landing – of an Apollo successor program aimed at returning astronauts to the moon’s surface later this decade and ultimately establishing a sustainable outpost there as a stepping stone to future human exploration of Mars.
The kickoff Artemis I mission was successfully completed in December 2022, capping the inaugural launch of NASA’s powerful next-generation mega-rocket and its newly built Orion spacecraft on an uncrewed test flight that lasted 25 days.
The objective of the 10-day, 1.4-million-mile (2.3-million-km) Artemis II journey around the moon and back, is to demonstrate that all of Orion’s life-support apparatus and other systems will operate as designed with astronauts aboard in deep space.
Artemis II will venture some 6,400 miles (10,300 km) beyond the far side of the moon before returning, marking the closest pass humans have made to Earth’s natural satellite since Apollo 17, which carried Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt to the lunar surface in December 1972.
They were the last of 12 NASA astronauts – all of them white men – who walked on the moon during six Apollo missions starting in 1969 with Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.
LUNAR LANDING PLAN
At its farthest distance from Earth, Artemis II is expected to reach a point more than 230,000 miles (370,000 km) away. The typical low-Earth orbit altitude of the International Space Station is about 250 miles (420 km) above the planet.
Carried to Earth orbit atop NASA’s two-stage Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the Artemis II crew will practice manual maneuvers with the Orion spacecraft before handing back to ground control for further tests and the lunar flyby portion of the mission.
The outbound journey would culminate with Orion looping around the moon, then using both the Earth’s and the moon’s gravity to send the spacecraft on a propulsion-free return flight lasting about four more days, ending in a splashdown at sea.
If Artemis II is a success, NASA plans to follow a few years later with the programs’ first lunar landing of astronauts, one of them a woman, on Artemis III, then continue with additional crewed missions about once a year.
Compared with the Apollo program, born of the Cold War-era U.S.-Soviet space race, Artemis is broader based, enlisting commercial partners such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and the government space agencies of Canada, Europe and Japan.
It also marks a major redirection of NASA’s human spaceflight ambitions beyond low-Earth orbit after decades focused on Space Shuttles and the International Space Station.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Bill Berkrot)