Artemis Team astronauts
NASA astronauts (from left) Jessica Meir, Joseph Acaba, Jessica Watkins, Matthew Dominick and Anne McClain discuss being part of the Artemis Team of astronauts after the Dec. 9. 2020, meeting of the National Space Council. Credit: NASA TV

HOUSTON — As NASA prepares to select the crew of the second Artemis mission, the agency’s chief astronaut says the entire astronaut corps, and not a previously announced subset, is eligible for that flight and future missions to the moon.

At an Aug. 5 briefing at the Johnson Space Center about the upcoming uncrewed Artemis 1 mission, Reid Weisman, the chief of the astronaut office, said he expected the four-person crew who will fly on Artemis 2 to be selected soon.

“The question everyone will ask is when are we assigning a crew to Artemis 2? We hope that will be later this year,” he said. That mission is expected to launch no earlier than 2024.

Artemis 2 will be the first crewed flight of Orion, going around the moon on a flight lasting about 10 days. The four-person crew will include one Canadian astronaut as part of a December 2020 agreement between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency regarding Canada’s contribution of the Canadarm3 robotic arm for the lunar Gateway.

NASA has not stated if any other international partners, such as Europe or Japan, will fly astronauts on Artemis 2. As for the agency’s own astronauts, Wiseman said the entire 42-person astronaut corps will be considered for that mission and later Artemis flights.

“The way I look at it, any one of our 42 active astronauts is eligible for an Artemis mission,” he said, a point he emphasized several times during the briefing. “We want to assemble the right team for this mission.”

That is a change from late 2020, when NASA unveiled an “Artemis Team” of 18 astronauts that agency leadership at the time, along with then-Vice President Mike Pence, said would form a pool from which NASA would select crews for at least initial Artemis missions.

“My fellow Americans, I give you the heroes of the future who will carry us back to the moon and beyond, the Artemis generation,” Pence said at a December 2020 National Space Council meeting where he announced the 18 astronauts who would comprise the team. Five of the 18 attended that meeting at the Kennedy Space Center.

Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator at the time, said more astronauts would be added in the future, including those from international partners. “This is our first cadre of our Artemis astronauts,” Bridenstine said. “I want to be clear: there’s going to be more.”

Wiseman, though, emphasized that he would consider all current astronauts, as well as 10 astronaut candidates currently in training. “We have 42 active astronauts here in Houston and 10 astronaut candidates who will be beating down the door for Artemis 2 and beyond,” he said.

He added that NASA has also changed lifetime radiation exposure requirements, which previously varied by age and gender, to a single limit. A June 2021 report by the National Academies endorsed such a proposal, noting it “creates equality of opportunity for spaceflight” over the previous standards that set lower limits for women.

Wiseman said those earlier “draconian” standards had been replaced by a single limit. “We have equalized all radiation limits. It does not matter whether you’re a man, whether you’re a woman, it is the exact same.”

“Our end goal is, the United States of America is half men, half women. Well, space should be at least that,” he said. “If we cannot make these spacecraft equitable, and we can’t fly any type of person on them, then we need to look at our systems and reevaluate.”

There are also no age restrictions on Artemis mission assignments, he said, noting the astronaut corps includes people with ages ranging from the late 20s to the mid-60s. “As long as you are healthy, we’re going to load you on a rocket and shoot you off the planet.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...