On April 3, 2023, NASA announced the four astronauts who will form the crew of Artemis II, which is scheduled to launch in late 2024. The Artemis II mission will send these four astronauts on a 10-day mission culminating in a flyby of the moon. While they won’t go to the surface, they will be the first humans to leave Earth’s immediate vicinity and the first near the Moon in more than 50 years.
This mission will test the technology and equipment needed for future lunar landings and is an important step in NASA’s planned journey back to the lunar surface. As part of this next era in lunar and space exploration, NASA has set some clear goals. The agency hopes so inspire young people to become interested in space, to make the wider Artemis program more economically and politically sustainable and, finally, to continue to encourage international cooperation on future missions.
From my perspective as one space policy expertthe four Artemis II astronauts fully embody these goals.
Who are the four astronauts?
The four members of the Artemis II crew are highly experienced, three of whom have flown in space before. The only rookie flying aboard notably represents Canada, making this an international mission as well.
The commander of the mission will be Reid Wijsman, a naval aviator and test pilot. During his previous mission to the International Space Station, he spent 165 days in space and completed a record 82 hours of experimentation in just one week. Wiseman also served as the Chief of the US Astronaut Bureau from 2020 to 2023.
Serve as a pilot Victor Glover. After flying more than 3,000 hours in more than 40 different aircraft, Glover was selected to join the Astronaut Corps in 2013. He was the pilot of the Crew-1 mission, the first mission to use a SpaceX rocket and capsule to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station, and served as a flight engineer on the ISS.
The only woman on the crew is a mission specialist Christina Hammock Koch. She spent 328 days in space, more than any other woman, during the three ISS expeditions. She has also participated in six different spacewalks, including the first three female-only spacewalks. Koch is an engineer by trade and previously worked at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
The crew is supplemented by a Canadian, Jeremy Hansen. Although he is a spaceflight rookie, he has participated in space simulations such as NEEMO 19, in which he lived in a facility on the ocean floor to simulate deep space exploration. Prior to being selected for the Canadian Astronaut Corps in 2009, he was an F-18 pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
These four astronauts have followed fairly typical paths to space. Like the Apollo astronauts, three of them started their careers as military pilots. Two, Wiseman and Glover, were trained test pilots, as were most Apollo astronauts.
Mission Specialist Koch, with her technical expertise, is more typical of modern astronauts. The position of mission or payload specialist was created for the space shuttle program, making spaceflight possible for those with a more scientific background.
A collaborative, diverse future
Unlike the Apollo program of the 1960s and 1970s, NASA put a lot of emphasis with Artemis on building a politically sustainable lunar program by promoting the participation of a diverse group of people and countries.
The participation of other countries in NASA missions – in this case Canada – is particularly important for the Artemis program and the Artemis II crew. International cooperation is beneficial for several reasons. First, it allows NASA to draw on the strengths and expertise of engineers, researchers and space agencies of U.S. allies and share production technologies and costs. It also helps the US continue to provide international leadership in the space as competition with other countries, especially China, intensifies.
The crew of Artemis II is also quite diverse compared to the Apollo astronauts. NASA has often pointed out that the Artemis program is the first woman and the first person of color to the moon. With Koch and Glover on board, Artemis II is the first step in fulfilling that promise and moving toward the goal of inspiring future generations of space explorers.
The four astronauts aboard Artemis II will be the first humans to return to the area of the moon since 1972. The flyby will take the Orion capsule around the far side of the moon in one go. During flight, the crew monitors the spacecraft and tests a new communication system allowing them to transmit more data and communicate with Earth more easily than previous systems.
If all goes according to plan, Artemis III will mark humanity in late 2025 return to the lunar surface, this time also with a diverse crew. While the Artemis program still has some way to go before humans set foot on the moon again, the Artemis II crew announcement shows how NASA plans to get there in a diverse and collaborative way.