HOUSTON – For the first time in half a century, NASA has named a team of astronauts to go to the moon.
They were Reid Wiseman, commander of the mission; Victor Glover, pilot; Christina Koch, Mission Specialist; And, Jeremy Hansen, also a career expert. The first three are NASA astronauts, Mr. Hansen is a member of the Canadian Space Agency.
“So I’m excited?” Ms Koch said during a staff release event at Ellington Field, a small airport used by NASA to train astronauts. “Of course. But my real question is: Are you excited?
The crowd cheered in response.
A major step in NASA’s Artemis program, sending astronauts back to the moon’s surface to explore the cold regions near the moon’s south pole, where water ice can be found in deep, dark craters. From the experience on the moon, NASA hopes to chart a path to put humans on Mars, while scientists hope to use what they find there to answer questions about how the solar system formed.
“Together, we’re going — to the moon, to Mars and beyond,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
But the four astronauts on this next mission, Artemis II, will not land on the moon.
Instead, passengers will embark on a 10-day journey that will circle the moon and return to Earth. It is currently scheduled for late next year and will be the first time humans have traveled more than a few hundred miles from the planet since the return of NASA’s last lunar mission, Apollo 17, in 1972.
“It’s an amazing time for the Artemis people, there’s no question about that,” Harrison Schmidt, the last surviving astronaut from Apollo 17, said in an interview. “A lot of people don’t fully realize that we’re three generations away from any human experience in deep space, and that’s the most important part of the mission,” he said.
Dr. Schmidt, who is also a former US senator, said he should not be surprised that it has taken so long. “I would say I’m disappointed,” he said. “A lot of things conspired to stop the Apollo program and keep us from going back for a while.”
Astronauts in 2023 are very different than they were during the Moon Race. During the Apollo program, 24 astronauts flew to the moon, 12 of whom set foot on the surface. They are all Americans. They were all white, many were test pilots.
At this point, the astronaut team represents a broader segment of society.
During the event, Mr. Wiseman said commanding an international, diverse crew was “fantastic.”
Mr. Glover was the commander of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon’s first operational mission to the International Station and the first black man to serve as a crew member on the orbital outpost.
The first woman to cross Earth’s low orbit, Mrs. Koch, and as a Canadian Mr. Hansen was the first non-American to travel that distance.
Instead of forming an international collaboration with Canada and the European Space Agency, Mr. Hansen noted. That deal reserved a spot for a Canadian astronaut on Artemis II.
“All of Canada is grateful for that global mindset and that leadership,” said Mr. Hanson said.
Mr. Wiseman said he wanted moon missions “to unite our country, to unite the world.