At yesterday’s eighth meeting of the National Space Council, the wait finally came to an end, as Vice President Mike Pence and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine unveiled the names of a cadre of veteran and unflown astronauts who will form the “Artemis Team” to return humans to the Moon, perhaps as soon as 2024. Identifying them as “the heroes who will carry us to the Moon and beyond”, Mr. Pence also offered a clearly emotional Mr. Bridenstine a standing ovation for his work, ahead of the administrator’s plan to step down in the near future.
And after years of planning to re-establish a human presence on and around our closest celestial neighbor, the first group of humans are now in place to do it.
Like the “Apollo Team” which preceded them—including the crew of historic Apollo 8 in December 1968, the first human landing on the Moon on Apollo 11 in July 1969 and the first scientist on another world on Apollo 17 this very week in December 1972—the Artemis Team will establish its own raft of “firsts”. If all goes well, we will see the realization of long-standing NASA and White House rhetoric to plant the boots of “the first woman and the next man” on the Moon, perhaps as soon as 2024.
And those boots may belong for the first time to Marine Corps aviators, Army aviators, Asian-Americans and African-Americans. Four of them are already at or above age 47, which will allow one of them to break Apollo 14 Commander Alan Shepard’s record as the oldest Moonwalker. And we should not forget, of course, that half of the cadre are women.
Uniquely, two of the 18 astronauts announced yesterday are currently in orbit aboard the International Space Station (ISS), members of the long-duration Expedition 64 crew. Nine of them are either in-flight or have flown before, with another targeted to launch aboard the inaugural crewed voyage of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner to the ISS in mid-2021 and eight others from NASA’s 2017 astronaut class having qualified for missions last January and previously unassigned.
Between them, they boast over 1,580 days—more than four years—of time spent in orbit and 124 hours of Extravehicular Activity (EVA).
Among their number are former schoolteacher Joe Acaba, who flew STS-119 to deliver the final set of electricity-generating solar arrays to the ISS in March 2009, followed by a pair of long-duration station expeditions in May-September 2012 and a short-notice visit from September 2017 through February 2018.
Acaba’s former ISS crewmate Scott Tingle, who joined him on the station from December 2017 through June 2018, is currently Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office.
Seasoned “8-Ball” veterans Anne McClain, Jessica Meir and the record-holder for the longest single mission by a woman, Christina Koch, also join the Artemis Team. Koch and Meir made history last year by performing the first in a series of all-female EVAs.
Kjell Lindgren, who spent 4.5 months on the space station in 2015, also joins the group, having recently backed-up Dragon Endeavour for Demo-2 and Dragon Resilience for the currently-on-orbit Crew-1. “Congratulations to my friends and former colleagues,” tweeted Lindgren’s ISS crewmate Scott Kelly. “Got room for one more?”
And Stephanie Wilson—a seasoned veteran of three shuttle flights, totaling 42 days in space, and currently the most flight-experienced African-American astronaut—rounds out the flown part of the Artemis Team.
Wilson’s record is expected to be eclipsed on 28 December, as her fellow Artemis team-mate Victor Glover passes her 42-day record during his long-duration Expedition 64 residency.
Also on the station with Glover is Kate Rubins, who is currently midway through her second ISS tour of duty, having flown for almost four months in 2016 and launched most recently aboard Soyuz MS-17 on her birthday in October. Nicole Mann, who is currently training to fly the first piloted CST-100 Starliner to the station next year, also forms part of this impressive group.
Added to the list are 2017 selectees Jonny Kim, Jasmin Moghbeli, Matthew Dominick, Jessica Watkins, Frank Rubio, Warren “Woody” Hoburg, Kayla Barron and Raja Chari, who concluded their Astronaut Candidate (ASCAN) training in January 2020.
Last summer, NASA advised AmericaSpace that Barron was working Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (XEMU) issues, with Dominick, Moghbeli and Hoburg assigned to the Exploration Branch of the Astronaut Office, Kim working Medical issues and Chari, Rubio and Watkins attached to the Vehicle Integration and Test Office (VITO).
“I give you the heroes who will carry us to the Moon and beyond: the Artemis Generation,” said Mr. Pence at the end of yesterday’s eighth National Space Council meeting. “It is amazing to think that the next man and the first woman on the Moon are among the names that we just read. The Artemis Team astronauts are the future of American space exploration and that future is bright.”
NASA added that actual flight assignments—including the Artemis-2 crewed circumlunar flight, currently scheduled for 2023, and the historic Artemis-3 mission in 2024 to put the first human boots on the Moon since Apollo 17—will come at a later date. “There’s gonna be more,” quipped Mr. Bridenstine.
And NASA has pointed out that the cadre will continue to grow with international partners. “We are incredibly grateful for the President and Vice President’s support of the Artemis Program,” said Mr. Bridenstine, “as well as the bipartisan support for all of NASA’s science, aeronautics research, technology development and human exploration goals.”
“There is so much exciting work ahead of us as we return to the Moon and it will take the entire astronaut corps to make that happen,” said Chief Astronaut Pat Forrester. “Walking on the lunar surface would be a dream come true for any one of us and any part we can play in making that happen is an honor.”
In his remarks at yesterday’s National Space Council meeting, Mr. Bridenstine received a standing ovation from Mr. Pence. “I’m the first NASA Administrator in history that wasn’t alive when we had people living and working on another world,” he said. “And, of course, it is our goal that I’m the last NASA Administrator in history that wasn’t alive when we have people living and working on another world.”