US space agency NASA has named the four astronauts who will take humanity back to the Moon, after a 50-year gap.
Christina Koch will become the first woman astronaut ever assigned to a lunar mission, while Victor Glover becomes the first black astronaut on one. They will join Reid Wiseman and Jeremy Hansen to fly a capsule around the Moon late next year or early in 2025.
The astronauts will not land on the Moon, but their mission will pave the way for a touchdown by a subsequent crew. The three US citizens and one Canadian were presented to the public in a ceremony in Houston on Monday. They will now begin a period of intense training to get themselves ready.
In selecting a woman and a person of colour, NASA is keeping its promise to bring greater diversity to its exploration efforts. All the previous crewed missions to the Moon were made by white men.
The quartet will essentially be repeating the 1968 mission carried out by Apollo 8, which was the first human spaceflight to reach the Moon. The major difference this time will be the use of the 21st Century technology that Nasa has developed under its Artemis programme. In Greek mythology, Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo.
Last year, NASA tested its next-generation Moon rocket, called the Space Launch System, and its associated crew capsule, known as Orion.
This Artemis-1 mission left Earth on a 25-day excursion around the Moon without anyone on board. This allowed engineers to assess the readiness of the hardware.
Now, the newly named astronauts will climb into Orion for Artemis-2 and a journey to and from the Moon that’s likely to take about 10 days. The last human spaceflight mission to the Moon was Apollo 17 in December 1972. The first landing was Apollo 11 in 1969.
Artemis-3, the first landing of the new era, is not expected to occur until at least 12 months after Artemis-2.
NASA does not yet have a system capable of taking astronauts down to the lunar surface. This is being developed by entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX company. Called Starship, the vehicle is due to start flight testing in the next few weeks.
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