50 years later: US returns to Lunar Orbit with Four Astronauts
For the first time, a woman and an African-American will go to the moon. NASA announced on Monday the names of the four astronauts who will orbit Earth's natural satellite at the end of 2024 after more than 50 years of absence, reported AFP.
Americans Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover and Christina Hammock Koch, as well as Canadian Jeremy Hansen will form the Artemis 2 crew, NASA announced from Houston, Texas.
They will be the first human beings to travel to the Moon - without landing there - since the last Apollo mission in 1972. Artemis 2 must prepare for the next mission, which will mark the return of humans to lunar soil.
Mission Commander Reid Wiseman and his two compatriots already know space from aboard the International Space Station (ISS), while this will be Jeremy Hansen's first space flight.
"Things are about to change"
Dressed in blue jumpsuits, the four were introduced by NASA chief Bill Nelson from the US space agency's center in Houston.
"It's been more than half a century since astronauts traveled to the moon," he said. "Well, that's about to change."
With African-American Victor Glover and Christina Hammock Koch on board, NASA is ahead of its promise to send the first woman and first person of color to the moon on the next mission to land on the moon, when the Apollo program took 12 men there - all white.
“Am I excited? Absolutely, but I'll turn the question over to you," Christina Hammock, 44, asked Koch at a news conference. "Because what I'm most excited about is carrying your enthusiasm, your aspirations, your dreams with us on this Artemis 2 mission."
Mission Commander Reid Wiseman praised the "exceptional" qualities of his teammates.
"We represent our country" to explore space, but "we need the whole world to be with us," he told AFP.
The four were congratulated Sunday by President Joe Biden, said the White House.
Target - the moon
The selected astronauts are aware of the importance of Artemis 2: "This is the next stage of the journey that will take humanity to Mars," explained Victor Glover, 46, a US Navy pilot just as Christina Hammock Koch: "this team will never forget it."
The Artemis program envisions eventually establishing the return of humans to the Moon by establishing a permanent lunar presence through the construction of a base on the surface of the Moon and a space station in orbit around it.
Learning to live on the moon should make it possible to test all the technologies needed for an even more complex journey: sending a crew to Mars.
The launch of Artemis 2 is currently scheduled for November 2024. The mission should last about ten days.
The four astronauts will travel on NASA's SLS rocket - the most powerful in the world today.
They will be on top of this rocket, in the Orion capsule, which will be released into space and take them around the moon. When they return, they will land in the ocean.
The SLS rocket has flown only once so far, during the Artemis 1 mission.
It sent the Orion capsule empty to the moon during a test mission that lasted just over 25 days. The capsule successfully returned to Earth in December.
All "active" astronauts (there are currently 41) were officially eligible to participate in the Artemis 2 crew. The selection process was kept strictly secret.
Unselected astronauts can take solace in the hope of being selected for Artemis 3, which will be the first mission to land on the moon. This mission is officially planned for late 2025, although the schedule is very uncertain at this stage. A mission to Mars could be sent by 2040.
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