NASA has announced the four astronauts who will participate in the Artemis 2 mission. The crew will be the first to fly around the Moon since the conclusion of the illustrious Apollo Program, about 50 years ago.

The chosen astronauts are Commander Reid Wiseman, pilot Victor Glover and mission specialists Christina Koch and Jeremy Hansen. Hansen is an astronaut from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) who is flying as part of an agreement between the United States and Canada. He will thus be the first non-American astronaut to leave Earth‘s orbit and fly towards the Moon.

Mission Artemis 2

The Artemis 2 mission is scheduled to launch at the end of 2024, with Wiseman, Glover, Koch, and Hansen aboard the Orion spacecraft on top of a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket from Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It will be the first time that the capsule and booster will fly with astronauts. Additionally, it will be only the second launch of both components after the Artemis 1 test flight in 2022.

Approximately 10-day Artemis 2 mission will not orbit or land on the Moon. The spaceflight will follow a hybrid trajectory with a free return. Orion capsule will use the European-built service module to perform multiple maneuvers as it accelerates around Earth and positions the crew on a lunar trajectory. Finally, Earth’s gravity will naturally bring the spacecraft home after a lunar flyby.

The crew will test the spacecraft’s life support, communication, and navigation systems before flying towards the Moon. The Artemis 2 crew will arrive within 10,427 kilometers of the lunar surface and travel 10,300 kilometers beyond the far side of the Moon. At that precise moment, it will be the farthest a human has ever traveled in deep space. From that point, the crew will be able to see both Earth and the Moon from the capsule’s windows.

The crew and the state of the art

Artemis 2 mission will conclude with Orion splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. Capsule will be recovered by US Navy ships and NASA teams. If successful, NASA will prepare for Artemis 3, the mission that will bring humans back to the surface by the end of 2025.

With the crew of Artemis 2 assigned, NASA will begin training sessions for the astronauts. As the launch approaches, these will be integrated with the mission control team on the ground. Meanwhile, engineers are completing the integration of all five major structures for the core stage of Artemis 2 on SLS. The Orion spacecraft, its European service module, ICPS solid rocket segments, and SLS are already at the Kennedy Space Center. Here they will be prepared for flight and await stacking as an integral part of the launch vehicle.

The crew includes three experienced astronauts who have already flown in space and one for whom Artemis 2 will be the first launch. Captain Wiseman, 47, spent 165 days in Earth orbit during his first mission, a 2014 flight to the International Space Station (ISS). Glover, 46, became a NASA astronaut in 2013. He flew as pilot of SpaceX‘s first crewed operational spaceflight (Crew-1) and spent 167 days on the ISS in 2021. Koch, 44, set various records: 328 days aboard the ISS and first woman to perform a spacewalk. Hansen, 47, will be his first time in space.

Future lunar missions

Although the Artemis 2 crew is NASA’s first lunar crew in Artemis50 years, there are at least two other crewed lunar missions currently planned. SpaceX, NASA’s partner for the Artemis 3 Human Landing System (HLS) or lunar lander, has two privately funded reservations to fly around the moon using its Starship spacecraft.

The DearMoon project, endorsed by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who named his crew of eight artists in December 2022, and American businessman Dennis Tito, who revealed his intentions to fly on SpaceX’s second circumlunar mission. The program for both launches is still in the planning phase.

In any case, NASA intends to move forward with the Artemis program to establish human presence on and in orbit around the Moon. This step is crucial to ensure that astronauts can learn the skills and techniques necessary to reach Mars as soon as possible.

Sofia Bianchi
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