NASA to Name Artemis II Crew in Early April

NASA to Name Artemis II Crew in Early April

The long-awaited announcement of the four crew members who will travel beyond the Moon and back on the Artemis II mission is just a few weeks away. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said today the names of the three Americans and one Canadian will be publicly revealed on April 3. The launch is currently planned for November 2024.

Artemis is NASA’s program to return astronauts to the Moon in collaboration with international and commercial partners for long-term sustainable exploration and utilization of lunar resources.

The successful uncrewed test flight of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft at the end of the last year, Artemis I, set the stage for the next in the series, Artemis II. It will be the first flight of humans beyond low Earth orbit since the final Apollo mission to the Moon in 1972.

Artemis II also is a test flight and NASA will not attempt to put the four-person crew into orbit around the Moon much less land on the surface.  That will wait for Artemis III a year or so later.

Instead they will travel on a “free return” trajectory around the Moon that will bring them back to Earth even if the onboard engines fail. They will go 6,479 miles (10,427 kilometers) beyond the Moon, further than any other humans, and back to Earth over an approximately 10-day mission.

Credit: NASA

The announcement of the Artemis II crew has been eagerly awaited ever since Artemis I splashed down in the Pacific on December 11. On Tuesday, NASA officials briefed reporters on their review of data from Artemis I. They lauded the performance of SLS and Orion, but stressed they will remain vigilant as they get ready for Artemis II, which will have “heartbeats on the mission.” They see nothing at this point that would delay the planned November 2024 launch date.

The Artemis program began under the Trump Administration and in December 2020 then-Vice President Mike Pence, as chairman of the White House National Space Council, identified a group of 18 NASA astronauts as the “Artemis Cadre” from which the first crews would be chosen.

However, last August, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman, who was head of the astronaut office at Johnson Space Center at the time, said he considers all of the NASA astronauts — 41 of them at the moment — to be eligible. Astronauts rotate through the position as head of the office and Wiseman stepped down at the end of last year.  Joe Acaba is his replacement and will play a key role in determining who gets to go.

Three NASA astronauts will be assigned. The fourth seat will be filled by a Canadian.

Canada is a long-time partner in NASA’s human spaceflight program, building the Canadarm robotic arm for the space shuttle and Canadarm2 for the International Space Station. Nine Canadian astronauts have flown on U.S. space shuttle missions and/or to Russia’s Mir space station or the ISS so far.

Canada was the first country to formally accept the invitation to participate in the Artemis program and will build Canadarm3 for the Gateway space station that will orbit the Moon. In December 2020 agreement was reached that a Canadian astronaut would be on the first flight around the Moon, planned for 2023 at the time.

Canada’s astronaut corps has four active members: Jeremy Hansen, Joshua Kutryk, Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons, and David Saint-Jacques. Saint-Jacques is the only one who has flown in space to date. He was a member of the ISS Expedition 58/59 crew in 2018-2019.

Active members of Canada’s astronaut corps, L-R: Jeremy Hansen, Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons, Joshua Kutryk, and David Saint-Jacques. Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

During his “State of NASA” speech today in conjunction with release of the FY2024 budget request, Nelson said all four crew members will be named on April 3.  Further details are pending.

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