Canadian Astronaut Will Be On Next Mission to the Moon

Canadian Astronaut Will Be On Next Mission to the Moon

NASA and the Canadian Space Agency announced today that a Canadian astronaut will be one of the crew members on the next mission to the Moon, Artemis II.  Scheduled for 2023, it will fly around the Moon as the crewed test flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft. Canada has four active astronauts, but a decision has not yet been made as to who will make the trip.

Canadian Space Agency President Lisa Campbell (top) and Minister for Innovation, Science, and Industry Navdeep Bain (bottom), announcing agreement with NASA to send two Canadian astronauts to lunar orbit. December 16, 2020. Zoom screengrab.

Canada and the United States have cooperated in space since the earliest days of the Space Age. In human spaceflight, Canada built the robotic Canadarm for the space shuttle and Canadarm 2 for the International Space Station (ISS). It agreed last year to build Canadarm 3 for the Gateway space station in lunar orbit to support the Artemis program.

Artemis is NASA’s program to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024 as the first step in a sustainable program of lunar exploration and utilization with international and commercial partners that eventually leads to humans on Mars.

The Gateway is a very small space station that essentially is a transfer point between the Earth and the lunar surface.  It will not be permanently occupied like the ISS, but astronauts could stay there for short periods of time.  NASA plans to launch the first two segments — a Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and a Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) — in 2023, but Artemis II will not visit it.  Canada, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will provide other segments later, and NASA is in discussions with Russia as well, although no agreement has been made.  All those countries already are partners in the ISS.

Only Americans have travelled beyond Earth orbit so far, the crews of Apollo 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17.

Canada’s Minister for Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bain and President of the Canadian Space Agency Lisa Campbell made the announcement today. Bain said it “will allow us to continue our tradition of being a world leader in space exploration. It’s exciting. It’s a start.  And it gives us hope for the future in these challenging times.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine praised Canada as the first international partner to commit to the Gateway program last year and part of the first group of countries to sign the Artemis Accords in October. In a statement, he said this new agreement “represents an evolution of our cooperation with CSA providing the next generation of robotics that have supported decades of missions in space on the space shuttle and International Space Station, and now, for Artemis.”

Canada’s four active astronauts also participated in today’s announcement: David Saint-Jacques, who was a member of a long duration ISS crew from December 2018-June 2019; and Jeremy Hansen, Joshua Kutryk and Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons, who are awaiting their first space assignments.

Canada’s four active astronauts, clockwise from top right: Joshua Kutryk, David Saint-Jacques, Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons and Jeremy Hansen. Zoon screengrab December 16, 2020.

No decision has been made as to which of them will fly on Artemis II, but NASA also has not yet made flight assignments for that mission. Artemis I, an uncrewed test flight of SLS/Orion, is currently scheduled for November 2021.  Artemis II will follow in 2023.

The mission that will land the next Americans on the lunar surface — “the first woman and the next man” as the Trump Administration says — is Artemis III. That is currently planned for 2024, although many consider that date unachievable from a technical and budgetary standpoint. The Human Landing Systems to get from lunar orbit down to and back from the surface are only in the design phase right now and Congress does not appear poised to provide the $3.4 billion needed just for FY2021 to move them forward on a schedule to meet a 2024 deadline.

Hansen stressed that whoever gets to go on Artemis II will do so on behalf of Canada and the astronaut team as a whole.

We’re all going to be working towards achieving this goal on behalf of Canada. One of the things that’s really important to us as an astronaut corps is that we’re a team, and that we take on these big challenges together. We look out for one another, and it doesn’t turn into a competitive process, but turns into a process of us lifting each other up all the way.


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