Updated 6:15 p.m. Eastern with comments from post-event interviews.
HOUSTON — NASA announced April 3 the three Americans and one Canadian who will be on the crew of the Artemis 2 mission, the first humans to travel beyond low Earth orbit in more than half a century.
During a ceremony at Ellington Airport near the Johnson Space Center here, NASA announced that Artemis 2 will be commanded by Reid Wiseman, with Victor Glover as pilot. Christina Koch and Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen will be mission specialists.
Wiseman, a former chief astronaut, flew to the International Space Station for a 165-day mission in 2014. Glover flew on the Crew-1 commercial crew mission to the ISS in late 2020 for a six-month mission. Koch spent nearly a year in space on the ISS from March 2019 to February 2020. Hansen, one of four active Canadian astronauts, will be making his first flight.
“The mission to the moon will launch four pioneers, but it will carry more than astronauts,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said at the event, just before introducing the crew. “Artemis 2 will carry the hopes of millions of people around the world.”
The four were selected by Joe Acaba, NASA’s current chief astronaut, and Norm Knight, director of flight operations at JSC, under the oversight of Vanessa Wyche, director of the center. Officials did not elaborate at the event on the process by which they selected the four, beyond previously plans to have one Canadian among the four-person crew in exchange for Canadian contributions to the lunar Gateway.
“A profound moment“
In an interview after the announcement, Glover said he and the other crew members were informed they would be on the mission at a meeting nearly a month ago. “It was a profound moment,” he said. “I think all of us have a strong sense of duty, and realize this is a very important piece, but a very small piece of a much bigger project.”
While some activities related to the mission, like pressure suit fittings, will take place soon, training for the mission itself won’t begin until June. That training will also include support for development work for Orion ahead of the mission, the first crewed flight of the spacecraft. “We have a lot of work to do.”
That training will involve a lot of time in Orion spacecraft simulators, said Matt Ramsey, Artemis 2 mission development manager, in an interview. They will also train in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, a large pool at JSC, with a Orion crew module mockup, as well as launch-related training at the Kennedy Space Center.
Artemis 2 is currently scheduled to launch no earlier than November 2024 on the second flight of the Space Launch System. It will be the first time either the SLS or the Orion spacecraft have carried astronauts.
The SLS will place the Orion spacecraft into an elliptical Earth orbit, remaining there for about a day to allow astronauts to test the spacecraft and confirm its life support systems and other key subsystems are performing well. The spacecraft will also perform a proximity operations or “prox ops” demonstration by maneuvering in the vicinity of the SLS’s Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage.
“You get a full day to check out all your subsystems before you hit go to TLI,” or translunar injection, Ramsey said of that initial Earth orbit. “If at any point you have issues, you have the opportunity to come back very quickly.”
Once the tests are complete, the Orion will fire its main engine to place the spacecraft on a free return trajectory around the moon. The spacecraft will swing around the moon without going into orbit around it, heading back to Earth to splash down in the Pacific. The full mission is scheduled to last about 10 days.
The three “driving principles” for Artemis 2, he said, is crew safety and survival, vehicle survival and mission success. The mission success principle, he said, features testing out the spacecraft subsystems, including in emergency and off-nominal conditions. There are additional flight test objectives the mission will attempt to carry out if time permits to help reduce risk for later missions.
The acceptance of risk on Artemis 2 will be different from Artemis 1 because of the presence of that four-person crew. On Artemis 1 “we pushed the edge of the performance envelope. We’re not going to do that for Artemis 2,” said Amit Kshatriya, head of NASA’s new Moon to Mars Program Office, in an interview. Having Orion remain in orbit for a day to check out systems before heading to the moon is an example of that strategy, he said. “We’re not doing anything that needlessly puts more risk onto the crew.”
Jim Free, NASA associate administrator for exploration systems development, said NASA is still going through the lessons learned from the Artemis 1 mission, but felt confident enough in the outcome of that mission to name the Artemis 2 crew and have them start training. “I think that’s a that’s a great sign that we feel confident that we can trust human lives to this vehicle.”
The critical path for Artemis 2 is completing the Orion crew module, which will have crew displays and life support systems not needed for the uncrewed Artemis 1 flight. Free said there have been some supply chain issues with components of the life support system, but NASA and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin have been working around those delays by changing the order of work on the module, “trying to do as much as we can while we’re waiting on parts.”
“Really happy with this gift”
Artemis 2 is slated to be the first crewed mission to go beyond Earth orbit since Apollo 17, the final Apollo lunar landing mission in December 1972. Nine Apollo missions went to the moon between 1968 and 1972, carrying three men each. That included three people who each flew on two Apollo lunar missions, for a total of 24 individuals — all American — who have traveled to the moon.
Hansen will be the first non-American to go around the Moon. “We would not be here without the friendship and close partnership between our two nations,” said François-Philippe Champagne, the Canadian minister of innovation, science and industry, at the crew announcement event. “This is more than just about going back to the moon. This is about investing in the future. This is about possibilities.”
“It is not lost on any of us that the United States could choose to go back to the moon by themselves,” Hansen said at the event. “All of Canada is grateful.”
Artemis 2 is a precursor to Artemis 3, which will attempt the first crewed landing on the Moon since Apollo 17. On that mission, a four-person crew will fly on Orion and enter a near-rectilinear halo orbit. Orion will dock with a Starship lunar lander that will take two astronauts to the lunar surface, spending nearly a week there before returning to Orion for the trip home.
Artemis 3 is scheduled to launch no earlier than December 2025, pending development of both the Starship lunar lander by SpaceX and new lunar spacesuits by Axiom Space.
Glover said that he doesn’t mind that, by going on Artemis 2, he will miss out on an opportunity to walk on the moon on Artemis 3. “The chance to fly on this is amazing,” he said. “Artemis 2 is a gift. Artemis 3 will be a gift for someone else. But I’m really happy with this gift right now.”
Not starting training until June, he added, will give him time not only to transition from his current work in the astronaut office but also letting this crew assignment sink in. He said his family is excited about his assignment, and the crew and their families got to speak by phone with President Joe Biden the day before the public announcement. “He talked about how important this is for all of humanity,” Glover said of that call. “He talked about how important this is to uplift all of humanity.”
“It is an honor,” he said of the opportunity to go to the moon. “It’s mind blowing.”