NASA announces 18 astronauts in their Artemis team to space

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced last week (December 9, 2020) that NASA has selected 18 astronauts from its corps to form what is known as the Artemis team. Two of these astronauts are expected to be the first American man and woman to return to the moon since 1972. This crewed lunar mission could start as early as 2024 (although there have recently been rumors that the date may be postponed). Pence introduced the Artemis team astronauts during the 8th National Space Council meeting at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on December 9th. You can see how they introduce themselves in the video above (from around 1 minute).

NASA announced that it will later announce flight orders for astronauts retiring from the Artemis team.

Here you will find names and short biographies for the members of the Artemis team.

Artemis Moon Program logo and graphics via NASA.

Despite a reported component failure on the cone-shaped Orion space capsule – the vehicle that will carry the astronauts – all indications are that the first Artemis mission, an unmanned mission, is due to be launched by the agency in November 2021, from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. This mission will be Artemis 1.

The November 2021 launch will be a test of both the Orion capsule and the rocket it is supposed to launch, called the SLS or Space Launch System.

The second Artemis mission – scheduled for 2023 – will test Orion’s critical systems with humans on board. It is expected to be the first crewed mission to travel beyond Earth orbit since Apollo 17 in 1972.

Then comes the Artemis 3 mission, which is expected to bring astronauts back to the moon in 2024. The Artemis program is part of the space directive 1 approved in December 2017 by US President Donald Trump. The stated goal is to return American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 and to:

… create a basis for a possible mission to Mars.

The Artemis program is named after Apollo’s sister in Greek mythology.

EarthSky’s lunar calendar shows the moon phase for each day in 2021. Order yours before they’re gone! Makes a great gift.

Night view of burly white rocket near gigantic building with flag and NASA logo on it.

An Orion spacecraft traveling in a truck passes the vehicle assembly building at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on November 11, 2014. Picture above Tampa Bay Times.

In the Artemis 1 mission, the Orion crew module and the SLS rocket are expected to launch together from the historic Launch Complex 39B of the Kennedy Space Center. The SLS – a rocket stronger than the Saturn V that propelled the Apollo astronauts to the moon – with its five boosters and four motors, will generate 8.8 million pounds of thrust (39 million newtons) when it takes off, by six million pounds (2.7 million kg)) of the vehicle into orbit.

After releasing the booster, the engines are switched off and the core stage (main body) of the rocket is separated from the spaceship.

This is followed by a series of engineered propulsion stages that give Orion the power it needs to leave Earth orbit and head for the Moon, but not before a series of small satellites called CubeSats are deployed along the way. These CubeSats will conduct a series of experiments and demonstrations unrelated to the Artemis mission in space. Living microorganisms are exposed to space radiation for the first time in more than 40 years.

A large orange rocket with 2 side boosters that stand next to a launch tower.

An artist’s rendering of SLS Block 1 with Orion spacecraft on the pad before takeoff. Image via Wikipedia.

Once Orion is in lunar orbit, it will collect data and allow mission heads to evaluate performance for about a week. When Orion is ready to return home, it will use its space propulsion system, provided by the European Space Agency (ESA), along with the moon’s gravity to return to Earth.

Apart from the propulsion in space, the ESA service module will provide the astronauts of the future missions with electricity, air and water.

About three weeks and more than 2.1 million km later, the Artemis 1 mission ends with a test of Orion’s return abilities by instructing her to land near a salvage ship off the coast of Baja, California. All of this may sound like a lot of complicated engineering work. The following NASA video shows the entire Artemis 1 mission.

Although the coronavirus pandemic slowed SLS testing, the process is now continuing at the agency’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Boeing led the construction of the Megarocket SLS and is now in a testing process called the Green Run. It will culminate in a hot fire test where the missile ignites its engines while tied to the ground and endures every step of a launch as if it were actually happening. This test run was originally planned for November 2020 and is now planned for the end of December. That delay may leave little scope to keep the Artemis 1 launch on track in 2021.

After the hot-fire test, the core stage will be renovated and taken to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for further testing. Orion’s development, led by Lockheed Martin and Airbus Defense and Space, has experienced its own delays, although the spacecraft is on track to begin preparations for launching Artemis 1 in the first part of 2021.

The second mission – the crewed Orion capsule test mission, Artemis 2 – is scheduled for August 2023.

Future manned exploration missions aboard Orion will dock at Gateway, a NASA outpost that is planning an orbit around the moon to support a sustainable, long-term return of humans to the lunar surface. NASA lunar director Marshall Smith said:

We don’t have to make the big leap at once. For a future mission, if we show that we can get to the moon and get a lander to work, we can have both docked with the gateway.

An orbiting space station with the moon below.

Illustration of the gateway’s orbiting lunar outpost. It is planned to build it with commercial and international partners. NASA said, “… the gateway is critical to sustainable lunar exploration and will serve as a model for future missions to Mars.” Read more about gateway.

Conclusion: NASA has selected 18 astronauts from their corps to form the so-called Artemis team. Two members of this team are expected to become the first American man and woman since 1972 to return to the moon. The first Artemis mission – an unmanned test mission called Artemis 1 – is expected to start in November 2021. The Artemis program aims to take people back to the moon and eventually on to Mars.

Read more from EarthSky: NASA to test its SLS Megarocket in the coming weeks

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