NASA announces the crew for next Moon mission

Monday April 3, at 11:00 am E.T. from the Johnson Space Center

Apollo 17, the final mission of NASA’s Apollo program. From December 7-19, 1972, this is the most recent time in which human have step foot on or traveled to the moon. It’s the last time a crewed mission has even traveled beyond low Earth orbit for that matter. Commander of the mission, Gene Cernan, and Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt explored the lunar surface while Command Module Pilot Ronald Evans orbited above. On December 19, at 2:25 pm E.T. when the crew splashed down in the Pacific Ocean the final Apollo mission was concluded and Mission Control, in Houston Texas was filled with NASA officials, flight controllers, and astronauts, all applauding as America returned to Earth. This America, the command module for Apollo 17 currently resides in Houston as well, just a short drive from that Mission Control at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.

Now, fifty-one years after that fateful last trip to the lunar surface NASA is once again ready to make that trip back to the moon. Another short distance from where that command module sits the four astronauts who will return to the moon have been announced. These four may not be landing on the lunar surface like Cernan, Schmitt, and ten others went before, but they will launch on a roughly 1.4-million-mile voyage to orbit the moon, and potentially go further into space than any human has ever gone before. This exact distance is yet to be determined as that will depend on the day of lift off and the relative distance of the Moon from Earth.

Artemis II will build on Artemis I, the uncrewed test flight of NASA’s Orion capsule around the moon and back last December. It was also the first and only launch so far of their “Mega Moon Rocket” the SLS or Space launch System. Currently the most powerful rocket in operation this massive rocket will launch again next with these four members of Artemis II. If all goes accordingly, they will strap into the Orion capsule atop SLS come November of 2024, and be the first crew to test fly the behemoth as the agency works to establish a long term scientific and human presence on the lunar surface. The entirety of the mission will take about ten days as the crew moves round the moon, and returns to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific, just like those of Apollo 17.

This mission also represents the first time NASA has been able to gain bipartisan political support and fully fund any crewed lunar mission since the days of Apollo, after several presidential admirations tried, and failed. Renamed to the Artemis program, and accelerating activities the agency was undertaking in the 2010s, then President Donald Trump’s Space Policy Directive 1, in 2019 tasked the agency with focusing on lunar missions, and current president Joe Biden committed to continuing with Artemis, and aims, with Artemis III to put humans back on the moon in 2025. This includes the first woman, and persons of color to be included on moon missions.

Today’s announcement which included three Americans and one Canadian, marks the second big announcement for the Canadian government in the last few weeks. Late in March when President Biden was visiting Canada, the CSA (Canadian Space Agency) committed to extending its participation with the International Space Station to 2030. NASA, the European Space Agency, JAXA have also all agreed to the six-year extension, where as Russia may leave the agreement earlier to pursue other objectives.

When Artemis I lifted off, NASA had the slogan “We Are Going”, and stated the Artemis era has begun. It was, and is true, those engines igniting did usher in the newest era of the American space program, but now it really feels like we are going at last. With Commander Reid Wiseman of the Artemis II mission, along with the Orion capsule pilot Victor Glover, and mission specialist Jeremy Hansen from the Canadian Space Agency, and mission specialist Christina Hammock Koch, the first female slated to make the moon voyage I think its safe to feel at ease knowing we really are going. We are going back to the moon, and beyond.